Sudan: freed ICRC worker Gauthier Lefèvre recounts weeks in captivity
Gauthier Lefèvre, the ICRC head of Al Jeneina sub-delegation was finally freed by his abductors on 18 March, 147 days after he was kidnapped, the longest of a series of kidnappings of humanitarian workers in Darfur.
You were kidnapped only five days before ending your mission in Sudan; how did that feel?
I actually made my peace with that very quickly and stopped thinking about it after a few days. It is something I had to forget about as a protection mechanism. It was my way of avoiding feeling hurt and depressed every day. This helped me to reach some kind of a balance in my life during the abduction and helped me focus on looking ahead.
How is that?
I had to look and focus on the day of my release. I was in a place where I could only see emptiness; skies, plains and hills. I knew that my ICRC colleagues would not forget me. That they were working hard to get me released. I thought about the love of my family and a wonderful woman who were expecting my return and waiting for me to be released.
Still, 147 days is a very long time in a desolate place to be alone.
I had a piece of cardboard on which I wrote maxims to help me through. One was that the most important thing for me was to make it through the day until nightfall. I was thinking positively: every day that passed was a day less in my captivity and brought me closer to being released. Also, nights were much better than days. There is more silence, peace and no flies. Days were hot and exhausting, especially mentally. Flies kept buzzing around 12 hours a day and before that I never thought that I could tolerate so many. You feel like a boxer when you go to sleep. But, you are even more exhausted psychologically.
Did this situation improve with time?
I began seeing herds of sheep and camels and other family members of the kidnappers, shepherd boys during the last month of captivity. I was allowed to take longer walks and to milk sheep and camels now and then. The three shepherd boys were a welcome change from my armed guards; they would bring me milk every day and allow me to take longer walks of two to three hours.
How do you feel now about Darfur, its people and humanitarian work in general?
I spent five months in captivity and will soon go home, rest, fatten up a little and then resume my life and work. I leave with no ill feelings. I feel the real victims are still left there in Darfur. I do not want people to remember just the last five months (the kidnapping). During the 17 months I spent in Darfur before that, the ICRC Al Jeneina team carried out a number of successful projects in West Darfur in a very difficult environment with a limited number of security incidents. That is how I would like to be remembered with the ICRC team.
Any special words?
I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to all my colleagues in the ICRC who worked very hard to get me released and to all those who expressed solidarity and sent a message of encouragement. My thanks also go to everyone in the Sudanese government and authorities who worked hard for my release.