Dutch Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag resigns over Afghan refugee crisis


Dutch Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag resigned on Thursday after parliament formally condemned her handling of the Afghanistan evacuation crisis.

Lawmakers passed a motion criticizing the government for failing to evacuate some Afghans and for missing signs of an imminent Taliban takeover.

Kaag’s resignation comes a day after Britain’s Dominic Raab was deposed from his post as foreign minister for the way he handled the situation in Afghanistan.

“The House believes that the government has acted irresponsibly,” Kaag said in a statement to parliament after parliament voted 78 to 72 to convict her.

“And although I maintain our commitment, I can only accept the consequences of this trial as a minister with the utmost responsibility,” he added.

“In my opinion on the democracy and culture of our administration, a minister should go if the policy is disapproved. Therefore, I will submit my resignation as foreign minister to His Majesty the King.”

However, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld refused to resign even though he was also hit with a so-called vote of no confidence by parliament.

Kaag said he would remain the leader of the center-left D66 party, which is in coalition talks with Prime Minister Mark Rutte after winning the second majority of seats in the March elections.

Rutte said his resignation was a “great loss” for the cabinet.

The Netherlands evacuated more than 1,500 people, both Dutch and eligible Afghans, in the chaotic final days before the United States pulled out of Afghanistan.

But many Afghans stayed behind, including 22 interpreters, according to the government, despite calls from parliamentarians to evacuate them months ago.

‘Blind point’

Kaag admitted during the debate that the government “had a blind spot as to how quickly it would get so bad” in Afghanistan, but said other countries had been in a similar position.

Dutch lawmakers from across the political spectrum lined up to criticize the government during a parliamentary debate on Afghanistan on Tuesday.

“How is it possible that there are still dozens of defense interpreters in Kabul?” said Jeroen van Wijngaarden, MP for Prime Minister Rutte’s VVD party.

The ministers were accused of being “apathetic” and mired in “slowness and vagueness” during the evacuation crisis.

The sense of chaos was fueled by reports in local media that the Dutch ambassador had been pleading with the government since March 2020 to make preparations, but that the ministers only decided two days before the fall of Kabul.

The debacle has raised bitter memories in the Netherlands of another foreign policy failure, when Dutch peacekeepers were unable to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war.

Dutch broadcaster NOS said it would have been “very difficult” for Kaag to stay, given that after the elections he made strong calls for political change.

Kaag herself had asked Rutte to resign in April after he, too, was convicted by parliament on charges that he lied about the coalition talks, but the prime minister held on.

The Afghan dispute now threatens to further complicate coalition talks that have dragged on since the elections, with a caretaker government still in place six months later.