NEWS

Canadian aid worker happy to be home after Kenya abduction

07/08/2012 12:50 EDT | Updated 09/07/2012 05:12 EDT
Canadian aid worker Steven Dennis of Toronto recalled his recent abduction in Kenya as a "very bad weekend" and said he was very happy to be home.

"To be home is quite wonderful. I like Canada a lot," Dennis said at a news conference Sunday at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto.

Dennis, 37, was taken along with three other colleagues from the Norwegian Refugee Council — including Qurat-Ul-Ain Sadazai, 38, from Gatineau, Que. — at a refugee camp in Kenya by armed gunmen and taken to Somalia.

"We were treated with a decent level of respect," recalled Dennis, who also said he was grateful for all the support he has received from the Council and the Canadian government.

The four were rescued in a daring mission involving Kenyan and Somali forces. Dennis said the rescue took place at about 6 a.m. Monday morning when his captors were gathering brush so the group could rest awhile, and to hide them from aerial surveillance.

"They were out getting more branches, and then we heard running," he said. "There was quite a lot of gunfire."

Dennis said he and his co-workers had talked about such a scenario and were prepared.

"We were together and we laid down. We didn't know who this group was and we know there's different groups in the area."

But one of the soldiers came over to the aid workers and uttered words in English to the effect of, "no ransom, rescue."

Dennis said he still doesn't know who the abductors were and emphasized the difficult living conditions at the Dadaab camp, which he said holds more than 460,000 people and is now the third largest "city" in Kenya.

"Aid has dried up for these people," Dennis said. "Our kidnapping emphasizes the difficulties that aid workers have in providing assistance to refugees and other people in need around the world.

'We reassured each other'

The attack happened suddenly and amid gunfire as the four were visiting the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya on June 29. They were taken to Somalia and held for three days before being rescued.

The group's driver was shot and pulled from the car. He died later in hospital. Dennis said one of the bullets grazed his front pocket where he always keeps his wallet and was left with just a bruise.

The group was forced to walk nine hours each night and sleep and hide during the day.

"The four us of were were a great team," Dennis said. "We reassured each other... that we're going to get through today and we're going to get through tomorrow as well."

When asked about his future plans, Dennis said he is taking a break and is considering what he will do next, but that he will remain involved in aid work.

"This work asks a lot of comprises... the number of birthdays and events I've missed is definitely something to consider," he said.

"Steven chose this work about 10 years ago and very early I worked hard at not worrying," said his mother, Carol-Ann Dennis, who was by his side during the news conference, along with his dad Peter and his girlfriend.

"I'm glad I tried to embrace that life does unfold the way it's intended."

After being released, Dennis, who is six-foot-five and has big feet, learned that trackers had followed his footprints. That allowed military officers from Kenya and Somalia to carry out a daring rescue mission 40 kilometres inside Somalia's border, which saw one Somali gunman shot to death and the hostages freed.

"This situation does highlight some things," Dennis said. "The walk we did parallels the walk done by 150,000 people last year, fleeing famine and insecurity. They didn’t have any support and food like we did.

There’s no rescue party for a lot of them."

Also kidnapped and rescued were Norwegian Astrid Sehl, 33, and Glenn Costes, 40, a Filipino, who was shot and injured during the initial kidnapping.

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