Arjan Erkel kidnapping: How the puzzle was solved

"I want to thank the Lord who brought me back to life today," said Arjan who then showed that his sense of humour had not escaped him. "I want to thank the Easter bunny who brought me back to Makhachkala in a big chocolate egg."

"This is fantastic. I feel good, what more can I say. Again, thanks. I have lost a few hairs (tapping his head) here but gained a few here (pointing to his beard).

"I feel fantastic. If I was in Rotterdam, I would kiss the ground. ... It was a difficult time. I am healthy. I lost 18 kilograms (40 pounds), but I was treated well."

In the early hours of Sunday April 11, MSF received word of Arjan's release via a telephone call from the Russian organization, Veterans of Foreign Intelligence (VFA) telling us that Arjan was free. The VFA is one of the groups that MSF had hired to assist in the search for Arjan and so the contact was from someone whose relationship to MSF was already established.

The VFA have been assisting MSF for the past nine months, and were hired following recommendations by the Erkel family and the information was correct and true. Arjan was found in Dagestan where he would wait for the MSF team to arrive. We understand that, at least for the past few months, Arjan has been held in Dagestan.

The family was immediately contacted and told the good news.

The VFA has worked in close coordination with MSF, the Dutch Government - particularly its representatives in Moscow. The coordination has constantly been done in close coordination with the authorities. The involvement of outside security agencies was a direct reflection on the lack of movement in the case by Russian and Dagestani authorities. The costs of the outside agency was paid by MSF.

As far as MSF knows, there has been no ransom paid. The organisation believe the release has come from the contacts the VFA has with law enforcement agencies in Dagestan.

Three people made up the team assembled to go to Dagestan and get Arjan. Representing MSF was Steve Cornish, the acting head of mission, and an MSF doctor from Moscow were en route, along with the Second Secretary for the Dutch Embassy in Moscow. They flew to Dagestgan at approximately 9am on Sunday morning and arrived just around 12:30pm.

Meanwhile, the Dutch military had dispatched a flight to bring Arjan back to Holland. Arjan's father, Dick Erkel, was on this flight to be with his son.

Once the MSF team met Arjan, the first step was to give Arjan a medical examination, given the length of time he has been a hostage and the recent news MSF had received that Arjan had a pulmonary infection. Fortunately, Arjan was considered to be in relatively good condition and there was no need for an emergency medical evacuation. He has lost about 18kgs in weight but he was clearly happy and in good spirits. He was up and walking about and quite happy to be free.

Arjan will have regular check-ups in the coming days and weeks to ensure his continued and improving good health. A better review of his medical condition will come with more thorough examinations.

The next stage was to bring Arjan to Moscow. Shortly before Arjan's departure departed, the Interior Ministry of Dagestan made a statement stating that Arjan had been freed in a Special Forces operation.

In Moscow, Arjan would be reunited with his father who had not yet landed.

When Arjan arrived in Moscow, he was confident enough to be involved in a press release where the first images of him would be taken and sent worldwide. A smaller frame after losing 18kgs and now with a thick beard, he was clearly in good spirits and friendly.

At the press conference, when speaking about his ordeal, Arjan was clearly relieved his kidnapping was over.

"I want to thank the Lord who brought me back to life today," said Arjan who then showed that his sense of humour had not escaped him. "I want to thank the Easter bunny who brought me back to Makhachkala in a big chocolate egg."

"This is fantastic. I feel good, what more can I say. Again, thanks. I have lost a few hairs (tapping his head) here but gained a few here (pointing to his beard).

"I feel fantastic. If I was in Rotterdam, I would kiss the ground. ...It was a difficult time. I am healthy. I lost 18 kilograms (40 pounds), but I was treated well."

Soon after the press conference, his father had landed and they were reunited at the airport before the flight home. Arjan was evacuated by an official Dutch flight late on Sunday. He was then taken Rotterdam, his home, and reunited with the rest of his family.

The MSF team responsible for Arjan's release has numbered between five and ten persons, based in Russia, Dagestan and Europe. The team has consistently followed any lead brought to the team from a variety of sources. There were a number of groups hired by MSF to assist in Arjan's release.

Arjan's case has been raised both publicly and behind the scenes on political levels within the international community. At the base strategic level, MSF has considered that keeping Arjan's case visible has been essential in advancing the case with the Russian Government and bringing about his rescue.

There are clear risks in any strategy. Understanding when to go public and when to remain silent, in order to permit authorities to advance the case, was a constant concern. Public campaigns were taken on only when it was considered helpful, and always with a consideration of the risks involved.

There is no indication as to which strategy or event has brought about Arjan's release and this may never be known. Regardless, the organization is very happy with the end result. It has been a terrible 20 months with enormous fears, pressures and stresses, especially for the Erkel family.

Recently there have been some visible strains between the family, Holland Government and the MSF organisation. This is not unusual for a stressful event that has lasted so long and with such possible consequences. The sole concern for all parties has always been how to bring about Arjan's safe return. We believe we did everything possible to bring about his release.

To date, MSF does not know the identity of the kidnappers and Arjan is unaware of who was responsible. The matter now rests with Dagestani authorities and MSF shall await the outcome of the ongoing investigation. At that time, MSF shall analyze the information and, if necessary, speak out at that time.

It is clear that the Russian authorities were instrumental in resolving this case and MSF considers it unfortunate that external security agencies had to be involved in order to bring about advances in the case.

Arjan Erkel is a humanitarian volunteer whose work consists entirely in helping alleviate the suffering of civilian populations. Unfortunately, his kidnapping was not an isolated event. For months, the humanitarian community has been the target of threats, violence and abductions in the Northern Caucasus making our work all but impossible.

However there has been immense public support for Arjan, for which the movement is grateful. The United Nations, European Parliament, humanitarian community have all offered their public and constant support. In addition, over 450,000 people worldwide signed a petition calling for Arjan's release.

MSF would like to thank all of the groups and individuals who have cared about Arjan over these long 20 months.