Hours after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj confirmed that 39 Indians who went missing in Iraq in 2014 have been killed, the Congress and other Opposition parties asked the government why there was a delay in revealing the information.

In June 2014, Islamic State militants reportedly abducted 40 Indian labourers from a construction site near Mosul. Most of the victims were from low-income families in Punjab. One youth, identified as Harjit Masih, managed to return to India.

On Tuesday afternoon, Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha that the government had confirmed all the Indians were dead. She said their bodies had been exhumed and a DNA analysis was done.

Several Opposition leaders criticised the government for giving “false hope” to the families for years.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor called it “disappointing behaviour”, while Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury said, “The question about why the Bharatiya Janata Party government kept giving them false hopes of being alive for the past three years must be answered.”

Congress President Rahul Gandhi said he was “shocked” to hear the news.

“We had expected this,” said Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, according to the Hindustan Times. “It should have been announced earlier, it was known since much earlier.”

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the central and state governments should help the victims’ families by giving them financial assistance and government jobs, The Times of India reported. “We are with their families in this painful and sad time,” Azad said. “It is our demand that they should be given financial assistance by central and state governments and also employment in government service.”

Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh, who had visited Iraq in 2017 to find out about the missing men, responded to the Opposition’s criticism saying it was the “job of the Opposition to take things the wrong way”, News18 reported. He added that legal procedures to bring the bodies back were under way.

“There was hope, but the situation deteriorated and the chances of the men being alive seemed slim,” Singh said, according to ANI. He said the government wanted to declare the men dead only after it had concrete evidence.