How many Afghans are still eligible for evacuation to the Netherlands? There has been a lot of juggling with numbers last week – with very different outcomes.
Outgoing State Secretary for Asylum Affairs Ankie Broekers-Knol (VVD) started it on Saturday. In a interview with the AD she recalled that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has now received 23,000 emails about Afghans who are said to be entitled to evacuation. 23,000 applicants, each bringing an average of five family members, according to Broekers-Knol, that is more than a hundred thousand refugees: “we can’t handle that”. Then she warned about a “brain drain” from Afghanistan.
The latter term in particular caused her to get angry reactions from MPs. And although Broekers-Knol had already withdrawn her words on Sunday, she had it up to her in the House on Wednesday. Corinne Ellemeet (GroenLinks) called the statements “misleading”, CDA spokesperson Anne Kuik spoke of a “stupid interview”. Jasper van Dijk (SP) recalled that Broekers-Knol had only called the motion of censure that the House adopted last month a ‘yellow card’: “Two times yellow is red.” However, the motion of no confidence that Van Dijk subsequently submitted could count on little support.
Because angry or not, in the debate with Broekers-Knol the MPs made clear what is most important to them: the implementation of the motion of D66 MP Salima Belhaj, which was adopted three days after the fall of Kabul. According to that motion all Afghans who have worked for the Dutch mission must be brought to safety: security personnel, cooks, but also women’s rights activists from Dutch development projects. The motion is worded so broadly that in theory it could indeed involve tens of thousands of people – and their families.
But that is not the number of Afghans that must be evacuated, according to civil society organizations in a letter to the cabinet. An inventory made by Vluchtelingenwerk, Cordaid, Free Press Unlimited and representatives of interpreters shows ‘a fraction’ of the number of 100,000 that Broekers-Knol dropped.
It is estimated that several hundred interpreters from defense and police, development workers and journalists – and their families. In addition, there are more than 200 family members of Afghans who have already been evacuated and are in the asylum procedure, and an unknown number of family members of 78 Afghan status holders, who are also entitled to family reunification. In total, this probably concerns a maximum of several thousand evacuees.
The inventory is so low because the civil society organizations have used strict criteria. For example, a total of about 2,300 Afghans have worked for the development organization Save the Children, says director Pim Kraan, but only 23 employees are on the ‘red list’. “They are in immediate danger from the Taliban and are in hiding.” Cordaid has also set the bar high, says Anne Kwakkenbos: “The women’s rights activists who must be expelled are directly threatened. They sleep at a different address every night.”
MPs responded in agreement with the inventory on Wednesday. “This is why I became so grumpy when huge numbers were sprinkled every time,” CDA spokesperson Derk Boswijk said. SP member Jasper van Dijk thinks strict standards can be defended, provided they are ‘acceptable to the NGOs and the people themselves’.
The question now is which criteria the government itself wants to adhere to. On Friday, outgoing Minister of Foreign Affairs Ben Knapen (CDA) is expected to send a letter to the House, next week a parliamentary debate will follow with Knapen, Broekers-Knol and outgoing Minister of Defense Henk Kamp (VVD). That debate should not be about numbers, thinks Kati Piri (PvdA). “Numbers are no excuse not to implement the Belhaj motion.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of October 7, 2021