Thursday, 10 June 2010

German girls search for normality after Yemen captivity - Feature

Source: Earthtimes


Bautzen, Germany ­ Eleven months of captivity have left their mark on Lydia and Anna Hentschel.

The 4 and 6-year-old sisters, members of a German family of five that was kidnapped in Yemen last year, returned to their home state of Saxony in mid-May after being rescued by Saudi soldiers.

But they have yet to really settle in. "There is no everyday life," their uncle, Reinhard Poetschke, said.

The fate of their parents and barely 2-year-old brother remains uncertain, a year after their capture north of the Yemeni capital Sana'a on June 12, 2009.

A special church service with prayers for the Hentschel family and another hostage that is still missing will be held on Saturday at St. Michael's Church in Bautzen.

The girls will not be there "in order to protect them," Poetschke said. Saudi special forces rescued the sisters on May 17 in the border area between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Two days later, the girls returned to Germany onboard an aircraft of the German Armed Forces.

"The girls resurfacing was just as mysterious as their abduction," said Poetschke, who has acted as the family's spokesman during the ensuing media frenzy.

The children have largely been shielded from the public. "They should return to a normal life," Poetschke, a minister in the Dresden suburb of Radebeul, said.

But that hasn't been easy. "Yemen is their actual home, that's where they have lived for most of their lives," Poetschke noted.

Relatives hope that Anna and Lydia will find a new home and regain trust under the loving care of their extended family. Their father, who is still missing, is the youngest of seven siblings.

Poetschke is his brother-in-law. The girls' parents worked at a public hospital in the northern province of Saada, where an insurgency led by the Shiite Houthi tribe has been raging since 2004.

The nurse and the mechanical engineer used to be employed by the small Christian aid agency Worldwide Services, which is based in the Netherlands.

In 2004, their first child Lydia was born in Saada. The other two children, Anna and Simon, were later born in Saxony.

Shortly after each birth, Sabine and Johannes Hentschel would travel back to Yemen with their children.

The family only lived in Meschwitz, close to Bautzen in Saxony, when they spent their holidays in Germany.

On June 12, 2009, the couple and their three children joined some colleagues on an excursion in Yemen.

On their way back, the family, two German nursing aides, a South Korean teacher and a British engineer fell into the hands of kidnappers.

The South Korean and the two German women from Lower Saxony were found soon afterwards. They had been shot dead.

The exact circumstances surrounding the capture of the hostages remain unclear. In all likelihood, Anna and Lydia have been living separately from their mother and father for a long time.

They hardly speak any German anymore. There are few signs that the girls miss their parents. "They dont ask about them," Poetschke said.

"It seems that they had to process the pain months ago."

The family assumes that the children were living with a Yemeni tribe.

"The girls still speak Arabic with each other," Poetschke said.

"Every once in a while, they call each other Fatima and Sarah." Conversations over more than everyday things are thus difficult.

"They can only express their deeper feelings in Arabic," he said. Fortunately, the family is receiving help from friends and acquaintances who know the language.

According to their uncle, the rescued girls do not seem distressed and show no apparent signs of trauma or physical deprivation.

They play with puppets and like to paint.

They do appear to be out of shape, Poetschke said. He assumes that they were not allowed to go outside much during their captivity.

The joy over the return of the girls mixes with worries about the three family members who are still missing. Relatives are bracing for the worst.

Speculation over little Simon's death has not been officially confirmed so far.

"We still have hope that all of them will come back," Poetschke said.

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