Erasmus University has requested that five people and their close kin and the employees of an organisation be evacuated from Afghanistan. They are students, alumni and members of an organisation that has helped EUR-affiliated academics conduct research in the country for years and that also employs several former EUR students.

Concerns

Marieke van Houte, an academic researcher affiliated with ESSB, is in touch with the persons concerned, through an intermediary situated outside Afghanistan for safety reasons. In association with a team of other academics who have conducted research in the country, lecturers, HR officers and communications officers, she is trying to get the persons involved to the Netherlands. “The people we’re talking to are increasingly concerned. They are genuinely panicking,” says Van Houte. “I’m afraid to promise them that things will be OK, because I’m not sure we’ll get the ministry to ensure that these people are evacuated.”

Van Houte says that the request for evacuation has arrived in the embassy’s inbox. “But by now they have received over 21,000 such emails. We haven’t heard yet whether these people have actually been put on a list of persons to be evacuated.”

“It’s absolutely vital that these people get some clear answers soon and that they are added to the evacuation list,” emphasises EUR spokesperson Rateb Abawi. “The problem has not yet been solved, which is worrisome. These people are in a vulnerable position, partly because of the work they’ve done for Erasmus University.”

Research in Afghanistan

Van Houte has been to Afghanistan several times herself, most recently in 2012. At the time she was conducting research on refugees who had returned to their home country, and on the differences between those who returned of their own accord and those who were forced to do so. In Afghanistan she was allowed to use Cordaid’s office and infrastructure, and she also received help from the organisation, whose members she now hopes to have evacuated. The organisation helped her conduct her research.

Furthermore, Van Houte says, all the students, alumni and employees of the organisation were involved in studies on human rights or were active in international development programmes in Afghanistan. “Those are not exactly subjects that are in line with the Taliban’s ideology. So we are concerned about their safety.”

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Call on Cabinet to help

Last week, Van Houte, in association with ISS-affiliated academics Rodrigo Mena, Zeynep Kasli, Thea Hilhorst and Helen Hintjens, called in de Volkskrant on the Cabinet to add people who work or used to work for Dutch knowledge institutions to the list of persons to be evacuated. “It is because of us that these people find themselves in this situation. Our research projects are impossible without them, so in our capacity as a knowledge institution, we are responsible for their safety.”

Van Houte brings up the recently adopted motion originally tabled by D66 MP Salima Belhaj, who asked that everyone who has helped the Dutch government, development aid organisations, human rights organisations and journalists in Afghanistan be evacuated as soon as possible. Outgoing Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigrid Kaag promised to stay true to that motion ‘in letter and spirit’, due to our ‘moral obligation to everyone who has helped the Netherlands, put themselves on the line or is in immediate danger because they took a stand’. “That includes students and staff of knowledge institutions,” says Van Houte.

As far as EM knows, Erasmus University is the only Dutch university to have submitted such a request. “It’s good to see that our initiative is supported by all layers and various departments of the university,” Van Houte says in closing. “But we need the ministry to stop talking about the sense of responsibility we’re experiencing and actually act on it.”

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