Russian Federation

Arjan's release: the first hours

Arjan Erkel has been freed. He is now safe at home in Holland with his family. The MSF volunteer and Head of Mission in Dagestan, was taken on August 12, 2002 was held for a total of 607 days.

Arjan was reunited with his father, Dick Erkel, at the Moscow airport. Dick Erkel flew out on a Dutch military flight that was specifically dispatched to bring Arjan back to Holland.

Father and son were reunited and then flew home together. Arjan, considering his ordeal, is considered in relatively good health and, at a press conference held in Russia just before his departure to Holland, demonstrated a sense of humour that had not escaped him, saying;" "I want to thank the Lord who brought me back to life today (...) I want to thank the Easter bunny, who brought me back to Makhachkala in a big chocolate egg."

The events

MSF heard news of Arjan's release when representatives received a call at 3am local time on Sunday April 11 from a group called the 'Veterans of Foreign Intelligence' (VFA). The Erkel family was immediately informed.

Steve Cornish, Acting Head of Mission of MSF (Arjan Erkel remains the official Head of Mission), together with an MSF doctor in Moscow and the Second Secretary of the Dutch Embassy immediately flew to Makhashkala in Dagestan to meet Arjan.

They flew there around 9:00am on Sunday morning and arrived around 12:30pm. A medical assessment of Arjan showed there was no immediate need to evacuate him. Arjan has lost considerable weight and will have further examinations and treatment in the coming days.

However, despite his ordeal, he was walking and talking and was extremely happy to be free. The main priority for MSF was to bring about a reunion with his family as soon as possible. During conversations, Arjan decided to appear at a press conference in Moscow where he would read a prepared statement.

At the press conference, Arjan thanked the VFA, then shook the hand and embraced the organisation's leader, Valentin Velichko, who was present at the press conference. By late evening he was on a flight with his father from Moscow to his home in Europe where he was reunited with the rest of his family.