Vancouver local Aweis Issa has called on Canada’s Somali community to speak out in support of kidnapped Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout.
“None of the Somali community has stood up and said that this is unfair, to take hostage a Canadian citizen,” Issa told the Straight. “It is shameful for us Somalis in North America to see this.”
Issa once worked for the Somali ministry of agriculture but left the country for Canada in 1988. Since then, he has assisted in the prosecution of Somali war criminals living in Canada.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Lindhout—a 27-year-old Alberta native—was travelling in Somalia just south of the capital city, Mogadishu, on August 23 when she was taken hostage at gunpoint. Issa said that he knows the area well; it was there that he obtained his undergraduate degree in agriculture some 25 years ago and where he returned to in summer 2007 to visit family.
Mogadishu, and the city of Afgoi, some 30 kilometres to the south, are joined by a single road, Issa told the Straight.
“In-between Afgoi and Mogadishu there are scattered refugees,” he continued, “People who they call inland refugees, who left the city of Mogadishu, who left the capital city because of the fighting.”
Somalia has been without a functioning government since a brutal civil war destroyed much of Mogadishu in 1991. Many of the city’s inhabitants fled south, where some have remained in refugee camps ever since.
“For the people living there,” Issa said, “there are no houses, there is no infrastructure, there is no water. It is only very dry.”
According to Somali news, Issa recounted, it was these people that Lindhout was on her way to visit. A freelance journalist previously based in Baghdad, Lindhout was trying to write a story on the conditions of the refugees.
Taken hostage with Lindhout was Australian photographer Nigel Brennan and Somali reporter Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, who was acting as the group's interpreter.
On September 7, Agence France-Presse reported that a ransom of $2.5 million had been asked for the journalists’ release.
“I’ve tried to get involved,” Issa said. “When I saw on the Somali news that a young journalist had been abducted in Somali I began calling my friends back home to help out. But the situation in Somalia makes communications very difficult.”
Supporting other media outlets’ reports, Issa said that the last he had heard on Lindhout and her colleagues Bwas that they were in good health but that their captors were moving them frequently.