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The two Spanish MSF workers kidnapped in Kenya 21 months ago are released

The family of Montserrat Serra has confirmed to CNA the release of the two aid workers. The Catalan Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut, from Madrid, were working for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and they were captured in the Ifo2 refugee camp of Dadaab in Kenya on the 13th of October 2011. MSF has ensured the two workers are “in good health conditions and they are waiting to join their loved ones as soon as possible”. An MSF team is already assisting the two aid workers. It is believed that immediately after the capture Serra and Thiebault were moved to Somalia, where they have been kept prisoners since. During the 645-day ordeal, silence and caution has been imposed by the negotiators.

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18 July 2013 09:17 PM

by

ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- On Thursday afternoon the family of Montserrat Serra has confirmed to CNA the release of the two aid workers kidnapped in Kenya 21 months ago. The Catalan Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut, from Madrid, were working for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and they were captured in the Ifo2 refugee camp of Dadaab (Kenya) on the 13th of October 2011 by a group of armed rebels. It is believed that immediately after the capture Serra and Thiebault were moved to Somalia, where they have been kept prisoners since. Through a press release, Médecins Sans Frontières ensured the two workers were “in good health conditions and waiting to join their loved ones as soon as possible”. An MSF team is already providing support to the two aid workers. Serra and Thiebaut are the Spanish citizens who have been kidnapped abroad for the longest period of time. During the 645-day kidnapping, silence and caution has been imposed by the negotiating team, led by MSF with the support of the Spanish and Catalan Governments.


Montserrat Serra, from the Costa Brava town of Palafrugell, and Blanca Thiebaut, from Madrid, were kidnapped by a group of armed men when the two aid workers were travelling on a vehicle through the Ifo2 refugee camp of Dadaab. Serra and Thiebaut were working on the construction of a hospital as MSF logistics officers. The kidnappers injured the driver and ran away with the two women. The two aid workers were captured on the 13th of October 2011 around 1 pm. The captors took them straight to Somalia where they have been kept as prisoners for the past 21 months. With the support of the Spanish and Catalan Governments, the French NGO which has a broad experience on the field, has led the negotiation to free the hostages. This negotiation process has been taken with complete discretion and caution, far away from the media focus. In Palafrugell, some solidarity actions have taken place during this time as Serra is a cherished person in her home town as she worked for several local NGOs.

Serra and Thiebaut were building a hospital when they were kidnapped

Due to the kidnapping of Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut, MSF Spain decided to immediately stop all its humanitarian aid activities in Dadaab and to pass them on to the Kenyan Red Cross. During the past 21 months, the Kenyan Red Cross  has been providing medical attention to the Dadaab population. The humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa and the armed conflict in Somalia have brought to half a million refugees to Dadaab. MSF decided to suspend all its activities in the zone until the two aid workers were freed. One of the MSF policies is to work without security guards and Serra and Thiebaut were travelling without being escorted when they were captured.

MSF launched a support call throughout Somalia to free the aid workers

MSF has been developing humanitarian projects in Kenya and Somalia for a long time and has great experience in the field. The organisation is therefore well known by the local people and throughout the territory. Somalia is a failed state, without a government that controls the territory and guarantees security and basic services. After a brutal civil war, the country was split into independent zones controlled by war lords, armed militias and tribal chiefs. A large share of Somalia is controlled by al-Xabab, an Islamist militia linked to al-Qaida. A few months ago, MSF launched a call of support to all the people living in Somalia, the Somalian Diaspora, the community leaders and the authorities who were controlling the zones where Serra and Thiebaut were being kept. MSF was asking them to help them to free the aid workers.

Kenya initially accused al-Xabab of the kidnapping and attacked the Somalian border

In the hours following the kidnapping, the Kenyan Government accused the Islamist militia al-Xabab of being responsible of capturing Serra and Thiebaut. The armed militia did not vindicate the action and it has not done so during the past 21 months. However, Kenya used the accusations as an excuse to attack the Somalian border. While they have been kidnapped the situation in Somalia has deteriorated and tensions have been intensified. In October, Kenya sent troops to Somalia to fight al-Xabab rebels who are accused of attacking soldiers, aid workers and tourists within the Kenyan territory. The troops are now part into the peace enforcement force coordinated by the African Union.

Kidnapped for money

According to several experts contacted by the CNA, it was likely that the kidnappers only had an economic goal rather than a political one since they did not ask for an exchange of prisoners or other political demands. For these reasons, the hypothesis of al-Xabab being behind the kidnapping started to fade away month after month. Currently, it cannot be ruled out that the kidnappers are somehow connected to the militia, but it does not seem they were acting on its behalf.

645 days of silence and caution

The negotiation led by MSF has been extremely discrete and cautious, imposing a strict silence around the issue which has been respected by Spanish and Catalan media. In fact, during the long 645-day kidnapping, the only news about the issue were isolated comments from officers of the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry or the Catalan Government’s External Affairs Department only saying that Serra and Thiebaut were in good health conditions.

The Catalan Government congratulates MSF for the negotiation

After having talked to the family and the NGO’s managers in Barcelona, the Catalan Government considered the freeing of Serra and Thiebaut as “very good news”. The Catalan Government’s Director of International Cooperation, Carles Llorens, has praised the “patience” and “calmness” of the families of Serra and Thiebaut during the 21 months duration of the kidnapping. In addition, he congratulated MSF for “the courage” and management capacity during the negotiations. Llorens explained to the CNA that during the kidnapping, the Catalan Executive has been in “constant contact” with the humanitarian organisation and the family of the Catalan citizen.

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  • One of the refugee camps in Dadaab (by Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

  • The two MSF workers kidnapped in Kenya 21 months ago (by ACN / MSF)

  • One of the refugee camps in Dadaab (by Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)
  • The two MSF workers kidnapped in Kenya 21 months ago (by ACN / MSF)