Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) confirms that its five staff held in Syria have been safely released. The organisation strongly condemns this abduction, which has forced Médecins Sans Frontières to permanently close one hospital and two health centres in the Jabal Akkrad region in northwestern Syria.
On January 2, 2014, five Médecins Sans Frontières staff were taken by an armed group in northern Syria, where they were working in an Médecins Sans Frontières – run hospital to provide essential healthcare to people affected by the conflict. Three of our colleagues were released on April 4, and two returned on May 14 and are on their way to be reunited with their friends and families.
“The relief of seeing our colleagues return safely is mixed with anger in the face of this cynical act that has cut off an already war ravaged population from desperately needed assistance,” said Joanne Liu, Médecins Sans Frontières International President. “The direct consequence of taking humanitarian staff is a reduction in lifesaving aid. The long-term victims of this abduction are the Syrian population. Some 150,000 people in the Jabal Akkrad region are now deprived of Médecins Sans Frontières’ medical care, while living in a war zone.”
In 2013, Médecins Sans Frontières medical staff in these three facilities performed 521 surgical operations, many for trauma wounds, 36,294 medical consultations, and safe hospital deliveries for more than 400 mothers.
Across northern Syria, where Médecins Sans Frontières continues to operate other medical facilities, security constraints have made it extremely challenging to provide assistance. Medical facilities have been attacked and bombed, and health workers killed or threatened by armed groups. Elsewhere in Syria, denial of official access and insecurity have blocked Médecins Sans Frontières from setting up medical activities.
“This incident is representative of the complete disregard shown toward civilians throughout Syria today,” said Liu. “While millions of Syrians need assistance for their survival, among some of the armed parties to the war, the very idea of independent humanitarian presence is rejected. We should be running some of the largest medical programmes in Médecins Sans Frontières’ 40-year history, in line with the massive needs of the Syrian people; but in the current environment our capacity to respond is painfully limited.”
Médecins Sans Frontières would like to thank everyone for the support and solidarity shown to our colleagues and their families and is grateful to the media for their understanding during these difficult months. We ask the public and the media to maintain the same consideration now that our colleagues have returned.
Out of respect for the privacy of the five, Médecins Sans Frontières is not disclosing their identities, nor will the organisation comment further on the circumstances of the captivity or the release.