Organisation - May 17, 2018

Is the travel policy responsible or patronizing?

Liza van Kapel,Stijn van Gils

WUR has a new travel policy. From now on, both staff and students must ask permission to travel to a region which the ministry of Foreign Affairs considers high-risk. For ‘yellow’ areas (some risk) permission is generally given, for ‘orange’ areas only as an exception, and no travel is approved to ‘red’ areas (no-go). Is the policy responsible or patronizing?

tekst Liza van Kapel en Stijn van Gils

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Fred de Boer
Thesis coordinator Resource Ecology
‘I want to discuss the likely effect of this new policy with my colleagues first. I have just seen that even South Africa is completely yellow. The idea of having to apply separately for every student from now on appals me. Or of their having to do extra courses, at the risk of delay. The question for me is who is actually responsible at the end of the day. Our students are very keen to see the other side of the world. Precisely because it is so different to the Netherlands, you learn new things there, such as how to do research in remote areas under difficult logistical conditions. That comes with certain tensions. Is it then our responsibility if something happens? I’m not sure really. The publication of the new policy is the right moment to give this some thought.’


Roel Dijksma
Lecturer in Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management
‘Personally, I usually follow the advice of Foreign Affairs. The ministry often has a better overview than the information I get from local contacts. A few years ago I wanted to send a student to South Sudan. The people out there said it was safe, but I didn’t do it in the end. Luckily not, because things went badly wrong there a few months later. Imagine I had done it, how could I have justified it? I totally agree with tightening up the rules: I think you run more risk from WUR since the niche in which WUR does research is often located in high-risk regions. It is never entirely risk-free, of course, but you shouldn’t go courting danger either and you certainly shouldn’t put students in danger. Their safety and that of staff always comes first.’

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Madhura Rao
MSc student of Food Safety, from India
‘For my Master’s thesis I was supposed to study the working conditions on the tea plantations in north-eastern India. The chair group I was working in thought that was fine, but in the end I didn’t get permission to go. According to the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was too dangerous there. I don’t understand that. The Dutch assessment is based on the presence of activist groups that were there 10 years ago. Those groups no longer play any role at all. Our own government thinks it is quite safe, so why shouldn’t I be allowed to go?’


Martijn Hackmann
Director of operations in the Social Sciences Group
‘I assess a lot of applications myself and I think it’s good we’ve got this policy. As an organization we have to take responsibility for students and staff who travel. And yes, that comes with some bureaucracy, but you need that to do everything possible to ensure safety. I think it’s good that we base it on the colour coding system at Foreign Affairs. After all, they have more information to base an assessment on; WUR doesn’t have a network of embassies. In a few cases, their assessment might be a bit too strict, but we try to work on a case-by-case basis as far as possible.’


Richard Chepkwony
PhD candidate in the Resource Ecology Group, from Kenya
‘Let me look at the map of Kenya. Those red areas in the east, that’s right. That is the border with Somalia. I really wouldn’t go there myself. But to make my home area yellow? No, that could easily have been green. The same goes for the area where I’m doing my fieldwork for my thesis. If it isn’t election time in those areas, it is quite safe. Even Dutch students really don’t need a security course or anything like that. Anyone wanting to do an internship in Kenya needs permission from our government anyway. You won’t get that for dangerous areas, so the Dutch travel guidelines are totally unnecessary here.’

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Anusha Mehta
MSc student of International Land and Water Management, from India
I understand where WUR is coming from, but I think it is only partly their responsibility, the rest is the responsibility of students and staff themselves.  I think this especially applies to older students and staff, so maybe an age barrier can be used. I feel like the rules are too strict: in my opinion the yellow areas should accessible for everyone, the orange ones should be subject to approval, and for all fields of study, and the red ones should stay off limits. I want to focus on transboundary water conflicts for my thesis, which focuses on dangerous areas, as do other geopolitics topics. I’m afraid we will end up stopping research on a lot of topics if the rules are too strict. Also I think it is strange that some people are not allowed to go back to their home countries for research.