Czech diplomats negotiate release of humanitarian workers in Syria

Christoph Israng, Jan Hamáček, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Czech diplomats have negotiated the release of two workers for a German non-governmental organization who were being held in Syria. The two men, one of whom is a German national, were handed over to Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamáček in Damascus and flown to Prague where they were met by representatives of their respective embassies.

Christoph Israng,  Jan Hamáček,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
Reports that Czech diplomats had been able to secure the release of two humanitarian workers held in Syria was flash news around the world on Thursday, but journalists hoping to get a glimpse of the two men as they arrived at Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport were disappointed. Acting Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamáček and the German Ambassador to Prague,Christoph Israng, alone attended a press briefing at the airport. Mr. Hamáček said was happy that the weeks of negotiations had born fruit and he had been able to bring the humanitarian workers back home. He revealed something of their ordeal.

“Following their arrest they were taken to Damascus by the security forces and were detained in one of the toughest prisons in the country. We had a doctor on board who gave them a medical check-up and said they while they showed signs of the ordeal they had gone through there appeared to be no serious medical problems.”

According to media reports the two men were arrested several months ago near the Iraqi border on charges of entering the country without the necessary papers. There is also speculation they may be two humanitarian workers for Doctors Without Borders arrested in Qamishli, northestern Syria several months ago.

While the Foreign Ministry has not confirmed either of the reports, Foreign Minister Hamáček said the negotiations with Damascus had taken weeks and the men’s release was made possible by the Czech Republic’s diplomatic presence in Syria which enables it to provide effective consular assistance to EU citizens as well as to nationals of other countries, for example the United States. He said the success of the operation was largely due to Czech Ambassador to Damascus Eva Filipi.

Czech embassy in Damascus,  photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry
“This is exactly why we maintain an embassy in Syria. This is not the first time that we have been able to help the citizens of other countries in need. Damascus made the gesture of goodwill in appreciation of the role our embassy plays and the humanitarian aid we are giving to the Syrian people who are suffering in this drawn-out conflict.”

German Ambassador to Prague Christoph Israng thanked Prague for its support in the matter.

“Thanks to valuable assistance from the Czech government two humanitarian workers, one of them German, were released from Syria today. Without the quick and un-bureaucratic help of our friends this would not have been possible. It is a sign of friendship and partnership. It shows that we Europeans stand together and help each other in good times and bad.”

During a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem, Mr. Hamáček discussed further humanitarian assistance to the country and strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, stressing that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.