Kidnapped Doctors Without Borders Staff Released in Darfur, Sudan

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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Khartoum/Brussels/New York, March 14, 2009 – Four Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff kidnapped on March 11 in Serif Umra, North Darfur, Sudan, were safely released today, March 14, 2009.

Canadian nurse Laura Archer, Italian doctor Mauro D'Ascanio, French coordinator Raphaël Meunier, and Sudanese watchman Sharif Mohamadin, were all released after three days in captivity. They are now with MSF staff. They appear to be okay and are on their way to Khartoum.

“We are incredibly relieved that our colleagues are safe and in good health,” said Christopher Stokes, general director of the Belgian section of MSF. “Their families have been informed and are overjoyed. Our thoughts are with each of our colleagues and their families as they look forward to being reunited. We are delighted this incident is resolved.”

Originally, five MSF staff members—three international and two Sudanese—were kidnapped on March 11 from Serif Umra. Later that same night, one of the Sudanese staff members was released. Today, all kidnapped staff members are free.

“We also want to express our outrage at the abduction of our colleagues,” Christopher Stokes added. “It is a gross violation of everything that we stand for. Kidnapping of humanitarian workers jeopardizes humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable. Our independent medical work must be respected if we are to continue working in conflict areas to save the lives of those who suffer most.”

As a result of the abduction, MSF evacuated almost all international staff from its Darfur projects. A number of Sudanese staff were also relocated to safety. A skeleton MSF team remained to secure the release of the kidnapped staff.

“This kidnapping represents a significant escalation in the insecurity faced by aid workers in Darfur,” said Stokes. “As a result of this kidnapping, MSF was forced to drastically reduce all medical projects across Darfur. We are incredibly saddened by this, particularly as in many areas we were the only healthcare provider. The needs of the population in Darfur are immense and they are the people who continue to suffer.”

In light of the deteriorated security situation,it is not clear at what level it will be possible for MSF to continue with its medical projects in Darfur.

At this stage, MSF respectfully requests that Laura, Mauro, Raphaël, and Sharif be given time and privacy to rest and be reunited with their families.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organization that works where the needs are greatest and delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, natural or man-made disasters, epidemics, and exclusion from healthcare.

MSF began working in Darfur in December 2003. Between 2004 and 2008, MSF teams in Darfur conducted more than 3 million outpatient consultations, treated 60,000 people in in-patient departments, and provided nutritional support to over 110,000 children in supplementary and therapeutic feeding centers.

The French and the Dutch sections of MSF were recently expelled from Darfur following the March 4 issuance of the International Criminal Court arrest warrant. The expulsions did not apply to the three remaining MSF sections in Darfur (the Belgian, Swiss, and Spanish sections). Following the March 11 abduction of its four staff members, the remaining MSF teams evacuated staff and drastically reduced all their medical activities.