Rome - As European Union (EU) leaders meet at the EU-Russia Summit in Rome this week with their counterparts from the Russian Federation, the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls upon the European Union presidency to press President Putin to secure the release of Arjan Erkel, the MSF volunteer abducted on August 12, 2002 in the Russian Republic of Dagestan.
At the end of July, 2003, MSF was shown proof confirming that Arjan was alive. During an official visit to Switzerland on October 13, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, Igor Ivanov, also confirmed that Arjan was alive.
Ivanov also said that Russia was doing everything possible to secure his release. However, even though such statements are reassuring to Arjan's family and MSF, the lack of resolution of the case indicates clearly that much more must be done.
"After more than 14 months of unbearable captivity for our colleague, we urgently ask all members of the European Union and especially its president, Silvio Berlusconi, to hold the Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable for securing the safe release of Arjan Erkel", said Dr. Morten Rostrup, MSF International Council President. Since the day of the kidnapping, the European Parliament has twice called on Russia to increase their efforts to find and ensure the release of Arjan Erkel.
After a first resolution adopted last January, the issue of kidnapped MSF volunteer Arjan Erkel was once again raised by the European Parliament in a plenary session on July 3 this year: The European Parliament called upon "the Russian authorities to step up their efforts to find and free Arjan Erkel, the head of the MSF mission in Daghestan".
"Arjan is a European citizen, so MSF takes the opportunity today during the EU-Russian Summit; to appeal to the European Union Presidency, led by Italy until the end of the year; to follow the European Parliament's resolutions; and thus, call Russian authorities at all levels to substantially increase their efforts in order to secure his safe release," added Rostrup.
Arjan Erkel is today the only foreign humanitarian worker remaining in captivity in the Caucasus. His case has become a clear expression of the reduced humanitarian space in the Caucasus. This is a region that has been in conflict for more than ten years and where independent humanitarian organizations today are unable to deliver effective assistance to thousands due to both enormous insecurity and instability.
In August 2003, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1502 on the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers, reiterating the responsibilities of host countries. Arjan Erkel, however, is still in captivity - and humanitarian workers in Russia's Northern Caucasus region continue to be threatened.