As It Happens

Burkina Faso community rallies for release of kidnapped Australian aid workers

People in the town of Djibo, Burkina Faso are in mourning following the kidnapping of Ken and Jocelyn Elliott. Since 1972, the Australian surgeon and his wife have run a hospital in the northern Burkina Faso town.
Since 1972, doctor Ken Elliott and his wife, Jocelyn, have operated the Friends of Burkina Faso medical clinic in Djibo, Burkina Faso. (Rebekah Ziesmer Strand/Facebook)

Most people in Djibo know Ken and Jocelyn Elliott.

Since 1972, the Australian surgeon and his wife have run a hospital in the northern Burkina Faso town. But on Friday, the Elliotts were kidnapped — the same day terrorists in Ouagadougou killed 30 people, including six Canadians.

Since the Elliotts' disappearance, people in Djibo have been protesting for their safe return. 

Rally for the release of Ken and Jocelyn Elliott. (Facebook)

"It's really a shock for everybody here," Maiga Yaya tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

Yaya is an English teacher in Djibo and a friend of Ken Elliott. He knows the vital role the couple and their hospital play in the community.

"I cannot estimate the importance of his work because he focused his work on the poor," Yaya explains. "People who have nothing."

With few medical services available in the remote region, Yaya says the Djibo community depends on the Elliotts' hospital which prioritizes care for the poorest residents.

"Hundreds and hundreds of people. Even right now in his centre there are many other people waiting for him there," Yaya insists. "He was the best surgeon of the region."

Yaya says Elliott had expressed concerns about the growing threat of terrorism in the region but continued to work despite these premonitions.

An Australian media report says that the al-Qaeda-linked Emirate of the Sahara group is responsible for the kidnapping. 

"He was really adopted by people so it was really difficult for him to leave even if there are some terrorist acts around him," Yaya explains.

Whether the abduction is linked to the terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou remains unclear. 

"What I can tell you is that on Thursday night, the day before he was kidnapped, people here saw the terrorists in the town," Yaya confirms. "But we did not know about their intention."

As protests and rallies for the couple's release continue Yaya says the community is worried for the Elliotts' safety, especially given they are both in their 80s.

"We are really afraid," Yaya says. "People are really not happy here."

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