There are only a handful of Czech humanitarian aid workers in Haiti; on Monday it emerged that one of them had been kidnapped last week and held for seven days. The aid organisation in question, the French-based Doctors without Borders, has said that one Czech and one Belgian worker were safely returned on Sunday, but has so far declined to shed more light on their six-day ordeal, which is bound to change the way aid agencies work in the earthquake-stricken country.
Port-au-Prince, photo: CTK
For all the troubling news to come out of Haiti over the last two months there have been no reports of kidnappings, which were common enough before the devastating earthquake. That changed on Monday however, when it was reported that a Czech nurse and her Belgian colleague, both working for the organisation Doctors without Borders, had been released from five days in captivity. According to the Haitian government the two were abducted with a driver near an upscale restaurant just outside Port-au-Prince; the latter was released in order to notify the authorities that the kidnappers were demanding a ransom. Other details have been slow in coming. Originally, Doctors without Borders asked the media to avoid reporting on the incident so as not to influence negotiations or inspire copycat kidnappings. What the organisation, and their Czech spokeswoman Lucia Ďuricová will say, is that the kidnapping is sure to change the way that it and other aid organisations operate in the field in Haiti.
“Our aim is to continue working in Haiti because we see that the needs remain immense and our assistance is essential. We want to stay of course, but this security incident forces us to review how we can work in the country. Managing the safety of our staff is a priority for us whether they are international or Haitian aid workers, and this has now become more complicated. So we will need to reflect on what consequences this will have for us and for our work in Haiti.”
Photo: Archive of Jan Trachta
Doctors without Borders currently has a team of roughly 400 foreign staff, including six Czechs and Slovaks, working in Haiti among the hundreds of thousand of injured. Many of these have been keen to emphasise the security and relative calm in the urban areas; nonetheless curfews are in place, gunfire is heard at night and gunshot wounds are often treated. Much suspicion in these cases falls on the 5,000 prisoners who fled from collapsed or damaged prisons. Those include many who were convicted of involvement in a wave of kidnappings that began in 2004, and so far only some 200 escapees have been recaptured. According to the Czech ambassador to Venezuela, who also deals with Haiti, the Spanish government was involved in negotiations, as the country is currently chairing the EU. For their part, Doctors without Borders has refused to say whether any ransom was paid in this first case of humanitarian workers being kidnapped, though it has done so in the past in other countries where security incidents are part and parcel of humanitarian aid.