MSF expresses relief at release of kidnapped aid worker Arjan Erkel

Geneva/Moscow - The international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expressed great relief at the release of MSF aid worker Arjan Erkel on Sunday, April 11, 2004, after 20 months as a hostage in the Northern Caucasus. At the same time, MSF emphasized the heavy toll that Arjan's prolonged detention exacted on the ability to provide aid to war-affected civilians in the region. Erkel, Head of Mission of in Daghestan, was abducted there on August 12, 2002, in the Republic of Dagestan (Russian Federation) while managing one of MSF's medical relief programs aimed at alleviating the suffering of civilian Chechens and Dagestanis affected by the conflict in Chechnya. "MSF is extremely happy that Arjan is finally back home," said Dr. Rowan Gillies, President of MSF's International Council. "But it must be remembered that a huge price was paid not only by Arjan but countless others as well. Arjan's kidnapping led to drastic reductions of aid programs to displaced and war affected people throughout the region. It reinforced the climate of intimidation against humanitarian actors that has existed in the region for years." The fact that Erkel was kept in prolonged detention for 20 months, and the need for MSF to hire a private Russian security company to arrange for his release, highlight the continued acceptance, by the government of the Russia Federation as well as its allies and partners, of a climate of violence in the region. Acts of violence and threats directed against humanitarian organisations have been an ongoing phenomenon in the region over the past decade. Since 1995, more than 50 international humanitarian aid workers have been abducted. Today, the violence continues and humanitarian assistance remains crippled. "This cannot drag on any longer. It is the responsibility of the host country to redress this situation now", said Dr. Gillies. Dr. Gillies expressed MSF's appreciation for the mobilization around Arjan's case. "MSF is extremely grateful to everyone who has shown solidarity with Arjan, from the hundreds of thousands of people in Russia, Dagestan and around the world who signed our petition, to the many representatives of national and international organizations and government officials who have shown their support."