Two University of New Brunswick students abducted June 4 in Ghana while volunteering with a non-governmental organization were rescued in an early-morning raid and eight people are in custody.
Ghana’s Ministry of Information said the rescue operation was completed in the south-central Ashanti region. The Canadian government said in an email to CBC on Wednesday that it’s “very relieved to confirm” the release of the women, whose names were disclosed by Youth Challenge International (YCI), the NGO with which they were volunteering, as Lauren Tilley and Bailey Chitty.
On its website, YCI said both women were getting support from professionals and that they were physically unhurt.
“The parents of both young women have been in contact with their daughters and at this time wish to express their extreme gratitude to the Ghanaian police, the Ghanaian government and the Canadian government for all their support and actions throughout this extremely difficult time,” the statement on the site said.
3rd woman identified
Tilley, 19, and Chitty, 20, had been abducted at the Kumasi Royal Golf Club at 8:25 p.m. local time on June 4, said a news release from the Ghana Police Service.
Tilley is originally from Rothesay, N. B., a suburban community on the outskirts of Saint John. Chitty is from Amherst, N.S., a town that borders New Brunswick.
“Bailey and Lauren are receiving emotional and psychological support from professionals as they travel home,” YCI said in the news release.
“Medical reports are that they are both physically unhurt. At this time, we are unable to comment on the police actions, the rescue or the perpetrators of the abduction.”
CBC News has confirmed a third woman was also present at the time of the abductions. Luce Thériault is originally from New Brunswick and works at the Multicultural Association of Fredericton.
At a news conference Wednesday, Ghana’s minister of information, Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, said the women have been flown to the capital, Accra.
He said security officers in Ghana surrounded the location where the women were held just before 5 a.m. local time. By 5:15 a.m., the team had “breached the premises” and gunshots were fired.
Five Ghanians and three Nigerians are in custody. One of the suspects sustained minor injuries.
Oppong-Nkrumah said an ongoing interrogation process will determine whether more arrests will be made.
He said one of the suspects might be linked to a separate kidnapping case involving multiple Ghanaian girls.
No ransom was paid
The ministry said no ransom was paid or discussed between the suspects and security agents in Ghana, and there was no foreign involvement in the operation.
“The Canadian team was in town to explore ways in which they could help, but that was not necessary,” Oppong-Nkrumah said. “Our people on the ground have clarity on what to do. And the result is what you see currently.”
Global Affairs Canada also said consular officials are providing assistance to the two women and their families.
“Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, and out of respect to these two Canadians who have been through harrowing experiences, no further information will be disclosed,” spokesperson Guillaume Bérubé said by email.
The ministry has sought to assure travellers that the West African nation remains safe despite a recent uptick in kidnappings for ransom. The country has been considered one of the safest in the region for foreign travellers.
Maritimes react to kidnapping
Political leaders in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were relieved Wednesday to learn Tilley and Chitty were found safe and unharmed.
Amherst Mayor David Kogon said “there are an awful lot of relieved people in the Amherst area.”
“I just can’t imagine the angst and now the relief that she’s been rescued … it’s just not something you hear about in Amherst.”
Although Kogon hasn’t spoken directly with Chitty or her family, he said the town is grateful for authorities involved in her rescue.
“Unfortunately they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Health Minister and PC MLA Ted Flemming said Tilley resides in his riding of Rothesay.
“Who could be anything but fabulously relieved that she’s been rescued?” he said. “It’s a wonderful story, it’s international.”
Inside New Brunswick’s Legislative Assembly, Green Party Leader David Coon became emotional while congratulating Ghana officials for their efforts in rescuing the two women.
“A lot of prayers have been said over the past week for these two young women and their families, today they were answered,” Coon said.
CBC News also asked for an interview with UNB, which wouldn’t comment about last week’s kidnapping.
“The university will not be issuing anything publicly about this situation, and we ask our community to do the same,” said university spokesperson Natasha Ashfield in an emailed statement.
“Even though we’re incredibly pleased to see a successful resolution, we need to respect the privacy of our students and their families.”
President vows crackdown on kidnappers
This marks the second time in about a month that foreigners have been targeted in Kumasi. Earlier, an Indian national was abducted and rescued.
Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has vowed to crack down on kidnappers amid fears the abductions could harm tourism.
Francisca Forson, a freelance journalist in Accra, said the Ghana Tourism Authority that regulates the industry has shut down the hostel where the two Canadians were lodging after doing inspections.
“They were operating without a licence, and they shut that down, and they also issued a warning that they would be tougher with other hostels or hotels where foreigners are lodged,” she said.
“So, there’s efforts on the part of the authorities to ensure that foreigners do not feel unsafe and are able to come here.”