How does an evacuation work? Foreign Affairs in plain language


Evacuations abroad happen only in very exceptional situations. People can only be evacuated if the security situation allows. What exactly does an evacuation involve? And what makes it so complicated? Read on to find out.

What does evacuation from a foreign country involve?

In the case of an evacuation, the Dutch government helps eligible people leave a dangerous place abroad and get to a safe place in the region. There is no guarantee that an evacuation will be arranged. As a rule, if it is safe for Dutch nationals to leave a country independently, the Dutch government does not evacuate people.

The Dutch government is not obliged by law to evacuate Dutch nationals. However, the government does have an obligation to inform Dutch nationals about the security situation abroad in good time and to advise them accordingly.

In the event that the Dutch government advises people to think carefully about whether their stay is necessary or to leave a country immediately: Follow the advice given by the government. Don’t wait until the last minute. It isn't always possible for the Dutch government to assist Dutch nationals who have decided to stay by evacuating them later. An evacuation cannot be arranged easily.

How does an evacuation affect people?

Experience shows that an evacuation is a major event for people, with effects that shouldn’t be underestimated. Often, the situation that is the reason for the evacuation is shocking and dangerous in itself. Fear and anxiety don’t always end when the evacuation is finished. The trauma of an evacuation can also surface even after people have left. This is true for both children and adults.

People are allowed to take almost nothing with them when they are evacuated, even if they are leaving the country where they live. And they have to leave their pets behind. They often have no idea whether they will ever be able to return. Losing personal mementos and possessions so suddenly has a big impact on people.

The C-130 Hercules transport plane that is often used for medical and other evacuations is a military plane. It can fly into more dangerous regions where it would be difficult to operate a passenger plane. The Ministry of Defence uses the C-130 Hercules plane to transport military personnel and not for ordinary passengers. It isn’t nearly as comfortable as a passenger plane. Evacuees sit in seats made of netting and are secured with a central seatbelt. There is no toilet on the plane, and little or no food or drink. People are given earplugs because the plane is so noisy.

What makes evacuations so complicated?

When it comes to evacuations, we always put safety first. Not only the safety of Dutch nationals in need of assistance, but also of the people who have to carry out the evacuation. If there is a lot of violence in a country or area, it will usually be too dangerous to evacuate people. For example because aircraft cannot land or because it is not safe to go out. An evacuation can only happen if it can be carried out without putting people in danger.

How can I prepare for evacuation?

This depends on the specific situation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will keep you informed as well as possible. Below are a number of tips that are useful in any situation:

  • Always register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Service. Select ‘Aanmelden + registratie bij ambassade’. It’s important for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to know who is in the country and where they are. This allows the ministry to contact you in an emergency. For example if an evacuation is being arranged.
  • If you need help, you can reach us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on +31 247 247 247.
  • Go to the page What to do in a crisis situation. This page provides important tips.
  • If you are in a safe place, stay there and only go out if this is absolute necessary. If you do go out, always take everything you may need with you (travel documents, communication device(s), medicine, food/water).

How is an evacuation prepared?

If an evacuation is likely, the Netherlands prepares for various possible scenarios. This means lots of preparations are made, plans are drafted and personnel and equipment are readied for deployment. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs works closely on this with the Ministry of Defence and with other countries (for example EU countries). This may include exchanging information, making joint plans, or working together to end the unsafe situation in the country in question.

What is the difference between repatriation and evacuation?

Repatriation and evacuation are similar in some ways. They’re both ways of helping people leave an area if they can’t arrange to do that themselves. But they are not exactly the same. The main difference is who is eligible.

A more limited group of people are eligible for repatriation: those who become stranded while travelling abroad. These are people who are on holiday, travelling for business or visiting family abroad, for instance, and are suddenly unable to return home due to unexpected circumstances beyond their control. In principle, Dutch nationals who live abroad are not eligible for repatriation.

The rules for evacuation are different. Evacuation includes all Dutch nationals, even if they live abroad. Depending on the situation, the government decides whether to arrange repatriation or evacuation. One thing they consider is whether people’s lives are in immediate danger.

The Netherlands arranged a repatriation operation in early 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries suddenly closed their borders, and airlines cancelled flights. Dutch nationals travelling abroad were suddenly unable to return home. The government worked with airlines and travel insurance companies to fly more than 12,000 travellers stranded across the globe home to the Netherlands on special repatriation flights.  

After the coup in Niger in July 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also helped Dutch nationals leave the country. Ambassador to Niger Paul Tholen described the evacuation in an interview, which you can read here.

Who is eligible for evacuation by the Netherlands?

People in the following categories are eligible for evacuation by the Dutch government:

  • Dutch nationals;
  • immediate family members of Dutch nationals (even if they are nationals of another country). Immediate family members means: the partner (spouse, registered partner, or person with whom an unmarried Dutch national has concluded a notarial cohabitation agreement and has a joint household) and dependent children aged (in principle) under 18 (including adoptive children and stepchildren);
  • people with a residence permit for the Netherlands or for Aruba, Curaçao, St Maarten, Bonaire, St Eustatius or Saba;
  • nationals of other countries (inside or outside the European Union (EU)) with whose governments the Netherlands has made agreements about evacuating each other’s citizens. Certain conditions apply in these cases.