Two Spanish Aid Workers Freed After 21 Months in Captivity

The unexpected release of two Spanish aid workers from Doctors Without Borders, kidnapped on October 13, 2011, was announced following 21 months of captivity.

When they were kidnapped, Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut were working on starting a hospital in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world [es], located close to the Somalian border in Kenya, and home to at least half a million Somalians fleeing drought and war in their country. It is believed that the volunteers were taken to Somalia after being abducted and have remained there the entire time.

Montserrat Serra (izquierda) y Blanca Thiebaut, las dos cooperantes españolas liberadas tras un secuestro de 21 meses en Somalia. Foto publicada en Twitter por José Campos.

Montserrat Serra (left) y Blanca Thiebaut, the two Spanish aid workers freed after 21 months of captivity in Somalia. Photo posted on Twitter by José Campos.

It is also unclear if their captors were common criminals or members of a faction of Al Qaeda, though most observers attribute the incident to terrorists. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called a press conference following the news, but José Antonio Bastos, President of (MSF) Spain, said they could not release information on the liberation process “so as not to compromise the rest of the volunteers in Somalia nor the informants.” It has been MSF who has partaken in the negotiations to free the volunteer workers. The Spanish state has not intervened. What has not been revealed is whether ransom was paid, the amount that could have been paid, or who has taken responsibility for the supposed payment.

Many celebrated the release of the two women, such as Beli Álvarez [es], who tweeted:

@Beli_AlvarezMensaje de cariño y bienvenida a las dos cooperantes españolas de @MSF_espana Enhorabuena a esta ong por su labor tan grande en el mundo

@Beli_Alvarez: A message of love and welcoming to the two Spanish aid workers from @MSF_espana Congratulations to this NGO for their great work in the world

Nevertheless, not all were messages of congratulations. Many netizens took for granted that the Spanish state had paid the ransom for aid workers and expressed their dissatisfaction, sometimes accusing the aid workers of being reckless and seeking their own misfortune.

burbman89 left this comment to the news, which appeared on [es]:

Vamos, que nos ha costado una pasta a todos los españoles que estas “buenas samaritanas” se vayan por ahí a darle alegría al cuerpo…. pero porque no se quedarán en casita!!!!

Come on, it has cost all of us Spaniards so much money for these “good Samaritans” to go there to make them feel good about themselves…. why won't they just stay home!!!!

In the same media outlet, 1-2-3-4 [es] blamed the volunteers for potential Al Qaeda attacks in the future:

Rueda de prensa de Médicos Sin Fronteras España para anunciar la liberación de las dos cooperantes. Imagen publicada en Twitter por MSF Prensa.

Doctors Without Borders Spain press conference to announce the release of the two volunteer workers. Image published on Twitter by DWB Press.

(…) los islamistas comprarán armas con los millones de euros que les hemos regalado. Armas con las que los islamistas secuestrarán a mas occidentales y con las que asesinarán a un montón de africanos. Armas con las que cometerán atentados.

El daño causado por estas “cooperantes solidarias” es incalculable.

(…) the Islamists will buy weapons with the millions of euros that we have given them. Weapons with which the Islamists will kidnap more Westerners and murder many Africans. Weapons with which they will carry out attacks.

The harm caused by these “aid workers” is incalculable.

In his column, “The state is no longer what it was” [es], in La Gaceta magazine, Rafael Bardají says that [es]

[los cooperantes] Ya no son elementos neutrales a los que se respeta, sino que son una pieza más en los conflictos. Y eso es algo que afecta no sólo a su seguridad personal sino a todo el Estado (…). Pagarles por lo que hacen y pagar por la liberación de sus miembros es amoral e insostenible.

[the volunteer workers] Are no longer neutral elements that are respected, but rather another piece in the conflicts. And that is something that affects not only their personal security, but that of the entire State (…). Paying them for what they do and paying for the release of their members is amoral and unsustainable.

In the same vein, Ricardo Peytaví shares his opinion in his column “Altruism that we all pay for” [es] in the online newspaper El Día

Lo único que quiero es saber cuánto me cuesta todo esto en parte alícuota, habida cuenta de que este mes he pagado en impuestos más de un tercio de mis ingresos brutos. (…) cualquier ciudadano de este país se ha convertido en pieza fácil para todo facineroso que desee ganar dinero fácil.

The only thing that I want to know is how much this all costs me in terms of the share, given that this month I have paid over a third of my gross income in taxes. (…) any citizen of this country has become an easy piece for everything criminal that wants to make easy money.

Nonetheless, there have also been many netizens and bloggers who are pleased with the happy outcome of the kidnapping, and praised the work of the volunteers and the organization in a community so vulnerable like that of the refugees. Belén de la Banda spoke about this on the blog 3500 millones [es]:

Blanca, Montse y sus compañeros de profesión son los referentes morales que estamos necesitando en estos tiempos de incertidumbre y desconfianza. (…) nuestra sociedad debería buscar el modo de que sientan también nuestro abrazo, para agradecer el esfuerzo ímprobo y valioso de un trabajo que les ha llevado a esta situación extrema. Porque personas como ellas hacen que nuestro país y nuestro mundo sean mejores.

Blanca, Montse, and their colleagues are the moral examples that we need in these times of uncertainty and mistrust. (…) our society should look for a way to feel our embrace, to acknowledge the enormous effort and valuable work that has led them to this extreme situation. Because people like them make our country and our world better.

And 1358 left this comment [es] on the news appearing on El País [es]: 

Las cooperantes, a su llegada a España tras su liberación. Imagen de la web de RTVE.

The volunteers at their arrival to Spain following their release. Image from the RTVE website.

Me uno a aquellos que SE ALEGRAN por la vuelta a casa de estás dos Personas y como CONTRIBUYENTE me PARECE MUY BIEN si es que se ha tenido que pagar por su liberación. La vida, incluso de aquellos que nos caen mál no tiene précio y mucho mejor gastarse el dinero (si es que se ha hecho) en PERSONAS que no en juegos de indios y vaqueros para que cuatro VAGOS jueguen y se crean chonvaine en “misiones” de “paz” y “reconstrucción”.

I am joining those who ARE HAPPY for the return home of these two People and as a TAXPAYER it SEEMS VERY GOOD to me if their release has had to be paid for. Life, even the lives of those who we do not like, has no price and it is much better to spend money (if it has been done) on PEOPLE than on cowboys and indians games so that four SLACKERS play and believe themselves to be chonvaine on “missions” of “peace” and “reconstruction.”

Regardless of the controversy that has been created around the payment of their rescue, the good news is that Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut are with their families, safe and sound. The DWB doctors and psychologists that have tended to them since their release have advised that they be given some time to recuperate and adapt to day to day life once again, meaning people will have to wait some time before they can talk about what they lived through these 21 months in captivity. They have only been seen getting off the plane in the Madrid airport, extremely skinny and appearing exhausted, but smiling. Hopefully they have a speedy recovery and return to their normal lives soon.

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