Reinforcements for embassy crisis team arrive in Lebanon

On Wednesday evening a Dutch Urban Search and Rescue (USAR.NL) team consisting of over 60 rescue workers and eight search and rescue dogs left for Lebanon from Eindhoven Airport. Five staff members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were also on board. They will reinforce the crisis team established by the embassy in Beirut.

Immediately after the explosion, the embassy set up a crisis team to coordinate the crisis response, contacts with the local authorities and assistance to any Dutch nationals in Lebanon. ‘Despite the damage to the embassy building, staff members were able to reach the tenth floor via an emergency stairwell and carry out this important work,’ says Hester Somsen, head of security policy at the Ministry and former ambassador to Lebanon.

USAR 0508
Image: Marloes van Baren

Catastrophe of a different order

Hester Somsen witnessed a lot during in her time in Lebanon. ‘What has happened now is incomprehensible,’ she says. ‘Of course, we’re trained to deal with all kinds of situations, mostly relating to the unrest in the country. But this is a catastrophe of an entirely different order. And the country was struggling to cope as it was.’

She is one of the five staff members in The Hague who soon after the explosion packed their bags to head out to Lebanon. Among them was also deputy head of mission Margret Verwijk who had just arrived in the Netherlands for her summer holiday. ‘I flew to the Netherlands on Sunday,’ she says. ‘A few days later, this happened. A whole part of the city has been erased. And in a ring around that area, the force of the explosion blasted doors and windows out of buildings.’

Embassy staff injured

The Dutch embassy was also hit by the explosion and five people were injured: two staff members and three partners of staff members. The wife of ambassador Jan Waltmans, who herself works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sustained serious injuries. The Ministry also dispatched a staff welfare officer and a special assignment officer to Beirut, to support embassy staff on a number of fronts.

Embassy closed – phone line available

Due to the damage to the building, the embassy is closed to the public. Anyone who needs to contact the embassy urgently can phone the 24/7 BZ Contact Centre in The Hague day and night on +31 247 247 247. In order to establish what repairs are necessary to allow the full embassy team to do their work safely, a construction and repair from the Ministry expert also traveled to Lebanon on Wednesday.