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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Kidnappedaid worker accuses GOAL of betrayal

Shane Hickey and Kevin Keane

AN aid worker who spent 107 days in captivity last night accused charity GOAL of betraying her by not evacuating her before she was kidnapped.

Sharon Commins and her colleague Hilda Kawuki were held captive for three months after being taken from a GOAL compound in north Darfur in Sudan last year.

Ms Commins said: "I would hate for anyone else to go through what I went through. I feel I was betrayed by GOAL. I realise now I was a cog in the wheel -- I was working in one of the most dangerous places on earth and there was very little regard to my personal safety."

Two weeks before she was kidnapped, a GOAL vehicle was shot at but the charity did not evacuate her, she told RTE's Prime Time.

"My God, they are actually shooting at us now and we had a clear flag that we are a humanitarian aid agency. I expressed my disappointment and my concerns. I raised (them) with management who told me that they were analysing the situation and it was a clear priority."


She also said GOAL internal rules on kidnappings were not followed. "GOAL's own policy is that you relocate relocatable staff until a professional assessment takes place and a report is generated out of that which outlines the conditions under which expatriate staff can return. That didn't happen," she explained. GOAL CEO John O'Shea said he did not feel that he had responsibility for the security of his staff.

"I don't believe I have. I feel terribly obligated to them and I want them all to come back... but when you go into a place like Sudan, you have to understand that the Sudanese authorities have taken control of security," Mr O'Shea said.

"So the reality is that can I take responsibility? I've 2,700 employees at the moment. Can I know what's happening in every village?" he asked.

"The policy is important to consider but what's more important is what do the people on the ground believe should happen and think, and their instruction was to stay," he said.

In the Prime Time documentary last night, Ms Commins described her captivity and detailed the cruel treatment she and Ms Kawuki suffered at the hands of their kidnappers. During the period of captivity, they were constantly moved around to avoid capture.

"Every time we were called down the mountain, we didn't know if we were going to be shot. There was a lot of rifts going on in the kidnapping gang -- some of them wanted to kill us, others didn't," she said.

"The guards would get quite cruel with us. They would put several containers of water around us, they would give us half a bottle of water to share between us for that day. Just totally to intimidate us, they would say, 'there is water there and if you touch any of it, we will kill you'."


The pair feared that if they were shot, they would not be found again.

"We knew that if we did die that we would be put in the ground before sunset in line with Muslim customs. And I think that would have been the thing that scared us the most, you know, your family never knowing how your final days ended and where your body was," she said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has admitted he feared the kidnappers of Irish aid worker Sharon Commins would snap and harm her.

Mr Martin said his biggest worry during the kidnapping in Sudan was that one of the kidnappers would "do something untoward" during her 107 day abduction.

Irish Independent

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