Nan Cao Blokhuis

My name is Nan Cao Blokhuis, I'm a journalism student from the Netherlands. Besides this I'm a freelance journalist interested in conflict, corruption and humanitarian crisis around the world. In the near future I'm aspiring to become an investigative journalist reporting from the heart of conflict- and crisis areas. Before studying journalism I have been studying Anthropology and Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam.

Tigray Genocide

“They were knocking door to door. To rape the women and kill the men. They took my cousin Hadush, who was 24 years old together with 72 other young men. They took them to the mountains and killed them all.” – Goitom, on the Mahbere Dego Massacre. In a time where polarization thrives and where we all identify in boxes and ranks common points are harder to find. What do a humanitarian aid worker, two students and a legal agent have in common? All have been tangled up in a long journey in their mother land. They were forced to flee to a new country on a new continent where they don’t speak the language far from their families and friends. They’ve faced prison, torture, shootings, and bombings. All for speaking a certain language, for looking a certain way, for having certain names, for carrying a certain identity. The identity of a Tigrayan in Ethiopia. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2019 succeeded in his  hunt for Tigrayan civilians and together with his allies managed to kill at least 600.000 Tigrayan civilians in two years’ time.

I meet Gebrekirstos Gebreselassie for a coffee in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on a Friday morning in March 2023. Gebrekirstos is Tigrayan and the founder and chief editor of Tghat. The platform Tghat documents the destruction that has been taking place in Tigray, the Northern part of Ethiopia, since November 2020. The platform was created as a response to the lockdown of the region, including all media and telecommunications by the Ethiopian government since the beginning of the war. Gebrekirstos: “I truly don’t understand why there is so little attention for this conflict in the media and so little interests by educational organizations such as The Africa Institute in Leiden. The only reporting from the Netherlands that I see is with so-called experts who had ‘once’ been to Ethiopia, but no accounts from Tigrayans themselves. This is completely incomprehensible to me. There are so many Tigrayan people who can and want to tell their story. There have been many Tigrayan refugees arriving the past month in the Netherlands. People who lived the war, who have seen it with their own eyes and can tell their story.”

With this message in mind, I contacted four refugees from Tigray in the Netherlands who are open to share their story with me. I first spoke with Goitom, 23 years old in a public library in the Netherlands. Goitom loves studying and finished his bachelor’s degree in engineering in Addis Ababa during the war. Seldom I’ve seen someone’s eyes light up like Goitom’s when talking about university. His siblings also studied in university and now Goitom wants to follow their path and become an engineer. However, he does not know if his siblings or his parents are alive. He has not heard from them since the war.

A few days later I meet with Atsbha, 38 years old at the emergency refugee camp, which is located in a hotel nearby Schiphol Airport. Upon arrival Atsbha welcomes me at the entrance. The hotel looks busy and chaotic. When we walk down the hall, there is a renovation on the left and on the right, it is filled with corporate people in suit drinking their lattes and discussing business deals. It is hard to find a place where we can sit down and where Atsbha feels comfortable to tell his story. I don’t see any other refugees which seems strange to me, I guess they’re somewhere on the other side of the hotel, at least not close to the corporates at the entrance. Atsbha tells me he has been staying in this hotel for the past eleven months. His wife and children are in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He fled the country almost a year ago and is still waiting for information from the Dutch Immigration Office. In his home country he was an active humanitarian aid worker, leading all humanitarian response programs at an international humanitarian aid organization. Atsbha: “I was helping internally displaced people and refugees from poverty and hunger. It is strange to be on the other side. Now that I’m the one depending on the Dutch government for receiving my meals, and the roof over my head.”

The next week I meet with Robel, 24 years old in the public library of Amsterdam. Robel is waiting for me in front of the water, he arrived by bike from the refugee center. When we greet each other, he gives me a big smile and tells me he is quite amazed by the enormous library. Robel graduated in software engineering in Addis Ababa and has been living in the Netherlands for the past nine months. He has two sisters of 28 and 18 years old. He recently learned they are alive in Ethiopia but hasn’t heard from his parents since he fled the war.

One week later I take the train to meet Selam in a public a library in Wageningen. Selam is 29 years old and has been working as an assistant transmitter and legal distributing agent for a shoes factory in Addis Ababa. She appears shy at the beginning of our conversation, guarded. Selam has a brother and sister of 31 and 21 years old. From the last information she has they are in Mekelle the capital of Tigray and her dad must be somewhere in Ethiopia. Her brother has a degree in journalism and fled with her sister to Mekelle during the war. Selam’s sister was supposed to go to university but had to stay in High School since educational facilities were destroyed. Selam doesn’t know if her siblings are safe, or even alive. She hasn’t been able speak to them since July 2021. Selam’s mom is in a refugee camp in Sudan. She is a nurse and was in Sudan for work when the war broke out and had to seek refuge in the country. Selam is extremely worried about the safety of her mom, especially since civil war broke out in Sudan: “She is all by herself, I don’t know if she is safe, I can’t talk to her because the network is extremely bad.”

Historical context

Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in Africa and the only country in the continent that has not been colonized. Ethiopia distinguishes more than 90 different ethnic groups with their own distinct language spread out over the country. Its population counts more than 126 million people. The biggest minorities are the Oromo who make up for about 43 million people, with its capital Addis Ababa, in the southwest of Ethiopia. The second minority is the Amhara population who make up for around 34.4 million people, in the northwest of Ethiopia. The third minority are the Somali with around 7.8 million people in eastern Ethiopia. The fourth biggest minority are the Tigrayan who’s population make up for 7.6 million people, with its capital Mekelle, in the north of Ethiopia.

Richard Reid, Professor of African History seeks to place the recent war in a deeper historical context. Ethiopia has never been colonized contrary to its neighboring country Eritrea that became an Italian colony under fascist rule from 1890 till 1941. On the map of Ethiopia, you can see that the Tigray region borders Eritrea. The territory of the Tigrayans however did not limit its borders to Ethiopia. Tigrayans have been living in Eritrea as well. The colonization of Eritrea left a complex and ambiguous relation between Tigrayans on both sides of the borders.  While Eritrea was colonized by the Italians, Ethiopia was living under the Monarchy of Emperor Haile Selassie who annexed Eritrea in 1962. Haile Selassie was eventually ousted in both countries in 1974.  This resulted in both countries being ruled under the military rule of the Marxist and authoritarian Derg regime, supported by the Soviet Union.

Insurgency movements were formed to overthrow the Derg regime. The main players in the insurgency movements were the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF was partly a product of student radicalism due to decades of marginalization and impoverishment of the Tigray people in imperial Ethiopia. Its fighters got trained with help from the EPLF. Together they succeeded in overthrowing the Derg regime. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front installed a new government in Ethiopia and Eritrea gained its independence in 1993. However, the EPLF did not only seek independence but also wanted its share of political and military power in Ethiopia since they contributed to the creation of the TPLF. This did not end well and in 1998 the TPLF went to war with Eritrea. To gain power the TPLF fought and destroyed rival rebel groups and when they installed its government corruption thrived. The TPLF’s former leader Meles Zenawi made sure Tigrayans dominated in the army and intelligence services, and consolidated jobs for former comrades. Under the rule of the TPLF Ethiopia became an ethnic-based federal state and underwent rapid economic progress. Mekelle, the capital of Tigray flourished, but there was also a growing discontent over the repression imposed by the TPLF.

As you know TPLF was ruling the country for 27 years and I can say their government is to command and you obey. It’s completely impossible to argue or disobey. Robel
“To me the TPLF is like a dictatorship. You need to follow their rules and they only care about their power.” Goitom

Abiy Ahmed

Abiy Ahmed Ali came to power as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018, replacing the repressive government of the TPLF. Abiy Ahmed is of mixed Oromo and Amhara decedent. He was part of one of the insurgency movements against the Derg regime,  fighting alongside the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF). Later he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the ENDF and occupied several positions within the Ethiopian government. Abiy Ahmed started his career as Prime Minister in a country that was in deep political crisis.  At the start of his career, he made drastic political reforms. He released thousands of political prisoners, appointed a gender-balanced cabinet, eased up restrictions on civil liberties and made a peace deal with Eritrea, which is known to have a powerful army and one of the world’s most repressive governments. The latter made him win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. In their press announcement the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Abiy Ahmed Ali: ‘for his efforts to achieve peace and international corporation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea’.

Abiy Ahmed did not only manage to solve the border conflict, but also to work together with the Eritrean Defense Force and Amhara militias in their shared grievances against the TPLF and the people of Tigray. This collaboration turned into a nightmare for the more than 7 million Tigrayan civilians living in Ethiopia.


Atsbha: “I have been working as a humanitarian aid worker for the past 12 years in Ethiopia. Before the conflict started in 2020, I was leading the humanitarian response program in the Gambela region, Western Ethiopia. This was the first moment I experienced racial comments from both the local community and government authorities. People were asking my employees if they were still led by ‘the Tigrayan’. Hatred against Tigrayans started and got fueled by speeches in the media of federal government officials like Daniel Kibret. They are making the division between the people of Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia and started to call us Juntas, which means terrorist or soldier that disobeys the government. I got asked to leave the region several times and received threatening calls from police officers. Throughout Ethiopia Tigrayans got fired or bullied away from their jobs and retreated to the Tigray region. When the war started the majority of Tigrayans who were left behind got arrested.”

On the 19th of October 2022, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide released a statement in which she addresses and condemns ethnic based hate speech used by political leaders that fuel the conflict: “There is discourse often propagated through social media, which dehumanizes groups by likening them to a ‘virus’ that should be eradicated, to a ‘cancer’ that should be treated because ‘if a single cell is left untreated, that single cell will expand and affect the whole body’ and calling for the ‘killing of every single youth from Tigray’ which is particularly dangerous. Diaspora blogs that call for the genocide of the Tigray people are also of deep concern. Hate speech and incitement to violence are fueling the normalization of extreme violence not just in Tigray and neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, but in Oromia and other parts of the country too.”

Selam: “I have been working in Addis Ababa before the war started. Discrimination towards Tigrayans is nothing new and was already fiercely present. As an employee of the shoes factory, I had to go to the production floor to check if everything was in order. Whenever I went down there, I felt vulnerable because they are carrying tools which they can easily use if they would want to harm you. If you speak Tigrinya in public, they called you Weyane, now they call you Junta.”

Start of the War

Two years after the start of his career as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed asked the TPLF to hand over wanted fugitives and join the new political party that he set up to replace the previous ruling coalition, but the TPLF declined. They went ahead with their own regional elections in Tigray in September 2020, while the national elections were officially postponed due to the pandemic. After the illegal regional election Abiy Ahmed accused the TPLF of raiding units on the federal military bases in Tigray, at which many national army officers were killed. Abiy Ahmed followed up on this accusation in the early hours of November 4th 2020 by announcing he had ordered the Ethiopian National Defence Forces to launch a military operation in the Tigray region. Additionally, to the ENDF Eritrean soldiers flooded Tigray from the North and Amhara Special Forces from the South.

Selam in Mekelle

Selam: “I remember going back home for the holidays in September 2020. My family was living in Mekelle. I lived and worked back and forth in Addis Ababa and Mekelle, after becoming a legal distributing agent. It was the night of 3 to 4th of November 2020, when we heard loud noises outside. We first didn’t realize what it was, but when we heard more and more loud bangs nearby the house, we realized the noises were gunshots. The next morning, we discovered two of our neighbors had been shot dead in front of their house.”

Robel in Wukro

Robel: “I was living in Addis Ababa where I graduated my bachelor’s degree in software engineering at the university. During the pandemic I moved back to my family’s home in Wukro, the northeast of Tigray. I remember taking care of my mom in the hospital on the 3rd of November 2020. It was at that moment I heard gunfire for the first time. At first, I thought they were hunting for criminals or undertaking a training exercise. But when the firing continued, and the network went down I suspected something was really off. The next day we heard an army jet coming from Mekelle. They dropped a bomb at the border. The war had started. It didn’t take long for the war to get closer. On the news we started hearing stories of massacres and bombings. Less than a month later my hometown was completely under attack. It was around 4 p.m. in the afternoon when I was with friends on the field where we used to play soccer. One of my best friends was there, his name is Kibrom. He had the most beautiful voice when he sang it was wonderful. We were out on the field, and he was standing ten meters in front of me when it happened. Bombs fell and he got hit right in front of my eyes. He died immediately. The bombardments kept going continuously after that.”

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHVR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) investigated the war crimes committed in Tigray Ethiopia in a joint investigation. In their report they state that between the 25th and 27th of November 2020 an undisclosed number of civilians died in Wukro.

Goitom in Mahbere Dego

Goitom: “I was studying at the University of Addis Ababa to become an engineer. But during the pandemic I went to Mahbere Dego. When I arrived, the war had started. The TPLF was recruiting young men to fight and taking men from their homes to fight the Eritrean and Amhara soldiers who had killed many civilians from the town.”

 On November 9th, 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed posted the following on his Facebook Page: #Ethiopia is grateful for friends expressing their concern. Our rule of law operation is aimed at guaranteeing peace and stability once and for all by bringing perpetrators of instability to justice. Concerns that Ethiopia will descend into chaos are unfounded & a result of not understanding our context deeply. Our rule of law enforcement operation, as a sovereign state with the capacity to manage its own internal affairs, will wrap up soon by ending the prevailing impunity.’

Atsbha in Addis Ababa

Atsbha: “I was born in Nebelet, Tigray but I was working and living in Addis Ababa as a humanitarian aid worker with my family. For my work I was involved in helping internally displaced people and refugees within Ethiopia who were suffering from conflict, drought, and natural disasters. When the conflict started, we immediately changed our attention to Tigray.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council published a report on 31st May 2021 stating that all communications in Tigray were disabled once the conflict began. Access to electricity, water and banking services were suspended and homes, hospitals, churches, mosques, educational institutions, and other civilian structures were bombed.

On the run

Selam: Mekelle to Abiy Addi

Selam: “When we woke up on the 4th of November, we understood the Ethiopian National Defence Force captured the center of Mekelle. With my family we decided to lock ourselves inside the house, where we stayed for 15 days. My mom was alone in Sudan for a work trip, she is a nurse, and is stuck in a refugee camp in Sudan since the war in Tigray started. While we were hiding inside our house the bombing started in Mekelle. My dad called his friends and together with their families we tried to escape to safety. Cars were assembled and with the left-over fuel we tried to make it to Samre. Halfway we ran out of fuel left the cars behind and continued our flee by foot. We hid in a church halfway; it was cold, and we had no blankets. The men separated and went out to search food for the others. After they returned, we tried to get some sleep but heard gunshots again at night. Instead of going to Samre we decided to change direction and move up to the North to a small town called Abiy Addi. In Abiy Addi there was heavy artillery attacks going on as well. After 6 days of fleeing with little food and water we had no choice but to return back to Mekelle. The ENDF had now captured the whole city. They were taking the men, tortured them, threw them in prison or executed them. The women were raped. Even those hiding in the campus of the Medical University in Mekelle. The fear of my sister or myself being raped was immense. Growing up I always felt safe. But now it was totally different. I hid in the house for four months. I only went outside when I really had to and was covering my skin from head to toe only walking in the shadows of the town.”

Mekelle was heavily bombarded through November 2020. In the report of EHCR and OHCR there is written how 29 civilians were killed due to shelling by the ENDF on November 28th. And 87 schools in and around Mekelle were completely destroyed when the ENDF took control of the city. The report also reads how various acts of sexual and gender-based violence including physical violence and assault, rape, gang rape, oral and anal rape, insertion of foreign objects into the vagina and intentional transmission of HIV have been committed by all parties of the conflict. The UN reports that there were more than 2000 allegations of sexual violence against women and girls in the Tigray region during the conflict.

“At one point NGO flights were back up. The federal government stated in the media that everything was under control and people were receiving aid. But this was a complete lie. There was no aid at all. I’ve seen Eritrean forces looting and stealing all the aid from the trucks and storages with my own eyes. In May 2021 I decided to return to Addis Ababa and see if I could get back to work. It was the second phase of the war and ethnic profiling had started in Addis Ababa as well. One day I was at the restaurant and got asked for my ID card for speaking Tigrinya. They arrested me and took me to prison.”

The UN Security Council published a document on 26th August 2021 in which they report that the UN and its humanitarian partners have mobilized to reach more than 5 million people who are in need of humanitarian aid in Tigray. 100 trucks of humanitarian aid were to be expected to reach Mekelle every day. However, since mid-July 2021 only 10 trucks per day made it through, and no trucks have arrived for over a week in the last week of August, due to roadblocks, checkpoints and even the arrests and killings of humanitarian aid workers. All food warehouses are empty.

Atsbha: From Addis Ababa to Nebelet 

Atsbha: “I was in Addis Ababa during the war, but I still wanted to help the people in Tigray. At the beginning of the war, I flew down to Tigray many times, to check on the people. But I had to stop because the work became too dangerous for being a Tigrayan myself. When the network went down the humanitarian team in Tigray mostly communicated with us by satellite phone. The only flights that were available were from the UNHAS, the World Food Program (WFP), and humanitarian logistic services. They would try to send money and food via planes, however these deliveries were stopped or got delayed by 6 months. Eritrean soldiers looted almost all humanitarian supplies upon arrival or at roadblocks. Amhara special forces, Eritrean and Fano militias were killing women and elders in their homes, executing youngsters, and looting all public services in Tigray. The region used to be doing well. It was small, but people were living from agriculture and small shops. Now the militias took everything, they stole the cattle’s, destroyed the houses, and burned the crops and the soil. Nothing is left. My friends who work in humanitarian response action were still able to operate in some parts of Tigray. They’ve sent me a picture of Nebelet, the town where my family is from. They were making a needs assessment for the people of Nebelet.”

“The town had been occupied by Eritrean soldiers and Ethiopian Defense Forces. On the week the picture was taken more than 70 civilians were brutally killed, of which my cousin was one. The town was nearly empty at the time the photo was taken and still now. Most of the residents had escaped the mass killings. The harvest, schools, health centers, water facilities, homes, and shops were looted and destroyed. The people of Nebelet are now totally dependent of humanitarian aid and facing food insecurity due to roadblocks of humanitarian supplies.”

Atsbha: “Speaking Tigrinya in public has never been possible but during the war it was worse. One day I was walking in the street with my youngest son in Addis Ababa who was six at that time. He was speaking Tigrinya because he forgot… well because he is a kid. People in the street started yelling at us calling us Juntas: ‘Hey Juntas what are you still doing in Ethiopia?’. My son asked me: ‘Papa why do they say that? Why are they asking us why we live with them?’ There has been a mass neglection of Tigrayan people all over Ethiopia since the war started. Tigrayans all over the country lost their jobs and got reported on special lists on which employers would point out to security who the Tigrayans are. This happened at all government offices, specifically at Ethiopian airlines, Ethiopian commodity exchange, the Ethiopian National Bank, and all the Ethiopian commercial banks. People got arrested and fired for no reasons, while in prison they got no salary and no way to feed their families. Life in Ethiopia as a humanitarian aid worker being from Tigray became too dangerous for me. Even though I was neutral and focusing on the humanitarian activities all government officials and the neighborhood community suspected me as if I am working for the TPLF. I was followed by Ethiopian police forces to my home and they would knock my door many times to arrest me. Finally, unknown policemen took me from my home and arrested me at midnight.”

Robel: From Wukro to Addis Ababa

Robel: “My best friend Kibrom had just died in front of my eyes due to a bomb that immediately killed him. The bombs continued falling afterwards.  Together with my other friends we fled into the mountains, hiding from the bombardments and heavy artillery attacks. We were hiding with a group of ten people when another bomb hit five of my other friends. Three died and one was hit. His face was completely destroyed. The only reason I survived these attacks is the soil we were standing on that muted the impact of the bombs falling down. From the mountains we could see the whole city turning black, one bomb after another had fallen into our city. The noise it makes is immense. When I arrived home my dad ordered me to take my mother and my sisters of 28 and 18 years old and bring them into safety to Atsbi, another town, which is around 6 hours walking from Wukro. My mom was still very sick, and the mountains are very steep. At the foot of the mountain, we found thousands of other people from the town who also decided to flee and helped carrying my mom and sisters to the other side of the mountain. We hid there for two days until we ran out of bread and water. I ate nothing these days and gave all we had to my mother and sisters.”

“After the two days of hiding, we continued our walk to Atsbi. We started walking from 5 am in the morning and arrived at night. Once we arrived in town, I told my mother and sisters to hide in a safe place so I could search for food. I went door to door begging people from the town for food. That was the moment when Eritrean forces came in unexpectedly. Everybody started running trying to safe their life’s, I had to run as well and lost my family. In the hours that followed I yelled their names and was under complete panic and madness. After hours of yelling and asking people, an old men told me he had seen them. After 6 hours I finally found them back hidden in the dark. My sister had fainted, and my other sister was crying continuously from hunger and fear. We hid there for seven days. People from the town were bringing us a small bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. After seven days my mom and sisters asked me to bring them home, back to Wukro: ‘Please bring us home, so we can starve in peace.’”

There have been no official publication showing Atsbi has been attacked by military forces at that time. However several tweets from different twitter users confirm Robel’s account from what happened in Atsbi that day. From December 1st, 2020, till January 30th, 2021, twitter users wrote how Eritrean soldiers had raped, killed, looted, and burned the people and buildings of Atsbi, Tigray.

“I decided to bring my family home. When we arrived, the town was very quiet. There was no one left. We had a beautiful home before the war, now they destroyed and looted everything. But my mother thanked God to be home. My cousin and my dad came back to the town as well. My dad had been hiding in another town and came back as a changed man. I don’t know what he has been through. He used the be a calm man but when he returned, he was yelling and violent towards my sisters and mom. My cousin stayed with us as well after fleeing her town. She thought to be safe with us but one day she was alone with my mother when Eritrean militia broke into the house. They’ve seen my mother sick and raped my cousin. They were raping all women and killing the men. When I arrived home my mom told me to leave: ‘they will kill you.’ I promised her I would find a way out.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council stated in their a report on 31st May 2021 that the involvement of thousands of Eritrean troops in the war is no longer disputed: ‘These soldiers are reportedly involved in extensive looting and destruction of property, including cultural heritage sites, in what some observers describe as cultural cleansing. Churches are reportedly attacked on feast days to ensure casualties are on sites. Close to 200 priests are thought to be among the estimated 50,000 civilian fatalities, including 78 who were killed in one zone, and nuns were raped in their convent in Wukro town.’

“I called my friends who live in Addis Ababa. They bought me a flight ticket since flights were back up. I had no passport, so I had to take the plane with my student ID-card. In Addis Ababa I lived at the university campus where I finished my bachelor’s degree. I had a few other Tigrayan friends at the campus and we met other Tigrayans who bought as a beautiful suit for our graduation day because they felt bad for what happened to us. After graduation we were ordered to leave the campus. We told the university that there is war at our homes and had no place to go. But the university staff did not care because we were ‘Juntas’. After begging Tigrayan families to take me in I ended up with a very special woman. She spoke a bit of Tigrayan and took me in for two weeks. The tension in the streets was really bad. Even in the church we were called Juntas and compared to Satan. They said: ‘A juntas is Satan; Satan is even better than a Junta’. Everybody turned their back on me. Former friends from university, my professors, and the church. One day I received a call from the university they told me to come to pick up my certificate. When I arrived at the university, they told me to come back the next day. I returned to the house without my certificate and got stopped by two policemen. They asked for my ID card and when I showed it to them, they told me it was fake, because I am a ‘Junta’. They slept me, arrested me, and took me to prison.”

The UN Security Council expressed concern over reports of arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances of ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa in a report published on the 26th of August 2021.

Goitom: From Mahbere Dego to Addis Ababa

Goitom: “The TPLF was recruiting young men to fight Eritrean and Amhara militia in Mahbere Dego. I decided to flee to Axum. My brother lived there and was working at the University Teaching and Referral Hospital. I found my brother in Axum, but when I arrived on the 20th of November 2020 Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers were attacking Axum from all sides of the border via Shire. My brother took me into hiding in his place until 4 am in the morning. Together we ran from the city into the rural area where we stayed in a hiding place. A man* brought us food. He assumed he was safer, since only the youngsters were recruited by the TPLF to fight. From the desert we fled to Abeba Yohannes, which is more than four hours of walking from Axum. In Abeba Yohannes it was not safe either. On Wednesday afternoon the 9th of December 2020 Eritrean soldiers were attacking Abeba Yohannes and Mahbere Dego from a distance via Adwa, Axum and Adet by using drones and heavy artillery. They killed anyone that was in the picture. On the 10th of December they arrived in the towns. I had to run into the mountains with a friend and a group of people. We kept running trying to get away from the drones and the heavy artillery aiming to kill us. We tried to dodge the shelling by running through bushes and behind trees. There was a mother running with her daughter. First the legs of the mother were blown away from underneath and then they blew of her head. The daughter lost both of her legs.” Goitom is crying when he is telling me this: “She was just a kid, her mother died, but I couldn’t help her, otherwise I would be killed. My friend who I was running with got killed in front of my eyes after that.” In the end Goitom ended up alone, everybody he had been running with was killed.

“I found refuge in a small church where I hid and laid down until the morning. In the morning people from the church started walking in and asked me what I was doing there. I told them I fled the war. A kind man from the church brought me food from the village nearby and invited me into his home. I left and stayed in the mountains for a week. I wanted to go home but my village was flooded with Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. In the end I went into hiding in the basement of my aunt and cousin in Muzena for two weeks, where it was relatively safe. However, a few days later fighting started in Muzena as well. Ethiopian soldiers knocked door to door to execute people.  My cousin Hadush who was 24 years old stayed in the house while I was hiding in the basement. He thought he would be safer than me because he didn’t flee his home and when they knocked the door he went outside, scared that otherwise they would find me. They took him and 72 other young Tigrayan men from the neighboring villages, into the mountains of Mahbere Dego where they executed all of them.”

Bellingcat, Newsy and BBC Africa Eye worked together to make a reconstruction of videos of the Mahbere Dego massacre. They identified soldiers speaking Amharic in the uniform of the Ethiopian National Defense Force executing Tigrayan civilians in the mountains. In the videos becomes clear Tigrayan civilians are being pushed off the cliff or executed by bullets. The BBC asked for clarification to the Ethiopian Government which stated that ‘social media posts cannot be taken as evidence’.

“After my cousin was executed, I did not want to live anymore, I wanted to give up and leave the house. After three days I decided to leave, even though Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers were in the mountains nearby, kidnapping and killing all the young men they could find. My aunt couldn’t stop crying: ‘I already lost my son. You need to stay here now’. I stayed a bit but then left to the desert, since my homeplace was not safe. They were killing and kidnapping young men there as well every single day. In the end I made it to Mahbere Dego and left for Mekelle by feet to the university with a friend of mine. I had no ID-card, so I used my student card. In Mekelle It was not safe either. I ended up going from Mekelle to the university campus of Addis Ababa. I had no place to go but I figured I would be safest at the campus. But when my fellow students and teachers found out I was from Tigray they yelled at me: ‘Why are you still alive! You are a Junta you should die! They should kill all of you!’ I only survived because of one professor and one friend, they are both from Oromo decedent and supported me since the Oromo people have been in fight with the federal government as well. At night my friend protected me from the other students that were sleeping in the dorm. On the 25th of September 2021 there was graduation day. People were celebrating with their families while I was hiding outside on the campus square so no one could see me. Only students and teachers had told authorities I was there, at which three policemen came up to me asked for my ID card, put me in handcuffs and arrested me.”


Selam: Beatings and rapes

Selam: “I was captured in two different prisons. The first time they took me to a governmental primary school where they were locking up Tigrayans. We had to sleep on the floor and weren’t allowed outside. My co-workers had to come to bring me food. In the end I was released after my sister paid for my freedom. After I was released, I got arrested again and was taken to a prison where men and women got separated. I can’t tell you everything that had happened to me or the other women. It was too traumatic. We slept on the floor, there were young women, elder women, and pregnant women. We all received one small piece of bread a day. There was sexual harassment and beatings. Sometimes the guards would call you to the office. In the office they were abusing the women. One woman gave birth insight the prison. After three months I was released after my sister paid again. Another sister who lives in the United States found out that many of my family members have been abducted by Eritrean troops in Abi Daero and that I had been in prison for the second time. She told me it was not safe for me to stay in Ethiopia and that I had to leave. She paid smugglers to take me out of Ethiopia.”

Atsbha: Torture

Atsbha: “I got arrested from my bed at midnight and thrown in prison. For over a month I stayed in a small room of approximately 20 square meters with a group of 50 people. Almost all prisoners were Tigrayan. The policemen tortured me, undermining my human values and ethnicity. Government media were spreading ethnic based hate speeches and abuses that directly affected me and my family. We were neglected from the neighborhood. I was living in a country hiding myself with a low profile. The fears I was facing were disturbing on a daily basis. I was limited to travel from area to area and could not deliver my assignments in the country. Finally, I got the ‘luck’ when an international conference was held in the Netherlands that I could attend to, and I’ve stayed here since. I’m safe in the Netherlands now, but this experience gave me a trauma that I struggle to forget. Every time there is a knock on my door, I fear that there is a policeman coming to arrested me without reason. My wife and my children are in Addis Ababa. I arrived in the Netherlands on 18th June 2022. From that moment they have been harassing my wife. Police arrested my wife two times after I left to ask her where I am. They’ve put her in prison and interrogated her. She told them I am on a work trip, and they left her but said to be coming back to search for me and arrest me. She has been living in fear since. And she has not been showing her face since that time in public. My kids are now asking my wife: ‘Where Is Papa?’ They miss me and always worry for my safety and security. Leaving everything behind because of your ethnicity and conflict became a headache for me.”

Goitom: ‘We will kill you today’

Goitom: “The police officers took me from the university to the police station. When I arrived, they threw me in prison with nine other Tigrayans for three months. They tortured me and made the same joke over and over again: ‘we are going to kill you today’. When the TPLF got closer to Addis Ababa, they told me, ‘we will now really kill you’. After the TPLF withdrew to Tigray they let me go, telling me I was a student. I went straight back to university after I was released since I had nowhere else to go. I looked for the one professor that had been good to me and asked him for help. When I told him I did an internship for Heineken he called the manager and asked him to give me a job. I got a 3-month trial period but when the manager figured out, I am Tigrayan they fired me, under the excuse of ‘bad work’. After I was fired at Heineken I was arrested again and put back in prison. This time a relative paid to release me and helped to flee the country. Now I’m in Netherlands and don’t know where my friends and family are. I haven’t heard from them since the war. I don’t know if they’re alive.”

Robel: ‘You’re going to die here, silently’

Robel: “I was arrested on my way back home from university and was thrown into a closed area with lots of boys. It was kind of a container in Addis Ababa. Here I got transferred to a police station. They threatened me and told me not to lie about my origin. But I did, which I think saved my life. I told them I have been living in Addis Ababa since 2018 and that I didn’t know my father so that even if I have a Tigrayan name they would not think I was raised in Tigray. They didn’t kill me, but they let me stay outside all night with the others. I was really afraid and crying by that time. After surviving everything in Tigray I still got locked up in Addis Ababa. The next day the policemen transferred me to the Aba Samuel Prison, one hour drive from Addis Ababa. The prison was really big and full of innocent people, I’ve even seen priests and bishops. I was afraid they would take a picture of my face and portray me on the news as a prisoner of war. They do this randomly even if you’re innocent to show their power and pretend to have arrested war criminals. After that you don’t have a life anymore. In the Aba Samuel prison, we got one small piece of bread which we had to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I stayed there for two weeks.”

“Then I got transferred again. This time to Mizan Aman Prison nearby the city Aman. The prison was in the middle of the forest. Here I was very scared. We were with 170 people in one room of less than 65 square meter. It was extremely hot and there were a just a few very tiny windows. Sometimes they would take us outside and beat us up. There were federal police and people in uniform from the Addis Ababa police force. We were tortured. I also got Malaria and was convinced I was going to die. In the forests around us there were lots of holes in the ground. One of the prisoners died, people were crying and mourning. They were yelling at us to shut up. One day a big general came to visit us by helicopter. His name was Colonel Getnet Adane. He told us: ‘You’re going to die here silently. We don’t waste our bullets on you.’ After he said that the Ethiopian federal army came to beat us up. This place really changed me, I’m now afraid of the smallest things. After three months of staying there lots of men had died in the Mizan Aman prison. They took half of the prisoners that were still alive including me. I thought I would finally be released. But we got transferred back to the Aba Samuel prison. I still had Malaria and was very sick. They told me: ‘If you pay, we release you.’ I had to call him, my cousin. My cousin lives in Saudi Arabia. He had told me to call him at the beginning of the war if anything would happen to me. I memorized his phone number and called: ‘I am in prison; they ask for money. If I don’t leave here, I will die’. He paid for me.”

  • Colonel Getnet Adane is also known as the military spokesman of the ENDF.
  • Aba Samuel prison is a high security prison.

“After I was released from the Aba Samuel prison people in Addis Ababa were threatening me in the street. They told me: ‘Give me money or I will make sure they arrest you.’ I sheltered in different places in Addis Ababa and decided to go to Kirkos. But they had roadblocks in search of Tigrayans. I got stopped before, but I could always manage to run away. This time it was impossible because there were too many soldiers. They arrested me again and took me to another prison around Kirkos. I started crying and gave up. This time another soldier came to me and said: ‘If you pay money, we will let you go’. I called my cousin again. This time he had to pay 20.000 Ethiopian Birr to release me. I begged my family in Saudi-Arabia to take me outside to another country. They told me we will manage something for you. And one night I received a call: ‘We will leave tonight’. Robel has been in seven different prisons during the war.”

In the report from the OCHR and the EHVR is written following: ‘Witnesses and victims testified to the ill-treatment of captured Tigray forces in Adi Gudem, Awash military camp, Adigrat, and Kedamay Weyane police station in Mekelle. Most of those in detention in Kedamay Weyane police station were former members of the TSF or civilians suspected of providing food and other support to them. One woman, who was a captured Tigrayan fighter, described how she and another friend arrested with her were tortured by the ENDF using wooden sticks at Awash military camp in Mekelle. She said soldiers also tortured prisoners at the camp with electric cables and plastic covered metal rods and wooden sticks. ENDF also abused prisoners by holding guns to their heads. Another man arrested on suspicion of providing food to Tigray forces described how his hands were tied behind his back for three hours and how he was later reportedly tortured by the ENDF with electric cables at a military camp in Adigrat.’ In the report is written how captured TPLF forces or civilians that are involved in helping the TPLF were captured. Reuters discovered more than a dozen prisons all around Ethiopia with at least 18.000 Tigrayan civilians arrested and detained, including women and children.


I reached out to the UNHCR Ethiopia on the future of investigations on the war crimes committed in Ethiopia. After initial communication there was no further official response due to humanitarian emergencies in Ethiopia and Sudan. I also reached out to the UN World Food Program (WFP) on the allegations of looting of food trucks and storages by Eritrean militia. There was no response. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva did not want to respond on record on my question if there would be an independent investigation for genocide in Ethiopia.

Why isn't the Tigray Genocide recognized by the world as Genocide? The dictatorial Ethiopian government, soldiers from Eritrea, drones from the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, and local special forces have collectively killed people of Tigray. I’m not saying the TPLF is innocent. The authorities of the TPLF are like dictators; they only care about their power. The Tigray people's human rights have been violated, they don't care about the people who have been killed by Ethiopian and Eritrean military, and they don't like to respond to questions from the public. Silent genocide has been committed upon the people of Tigray. Goitom

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states that genocide means the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such:

Killing members of a group:

Researcher Jan Nyssen investigated the war in Tigray through satellite images and concluded 600.000 Tigrayan civilians have been killed in the war over a time period of 2 years in 2022. However, official numbers have not been available yet since the Ethiopian government does not allow international organization full access to the area.

Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group:

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International conducted a joint investigation in which they discovered torture, rape, sexual slavery, and other inhumane acts against the people of Tigray:

  • 288 cases of gender based violence were registered from February till April 2022, the health facilities in Tigray
  • 852 cases of survivors of rape were reported between November and December 2022 at the Tigray Health Bureau after the peace deal was signed in November 2022.

Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction on whole or in part:

The Tigray Health Bureau reports the collapse of the health care system in Tigray due to the deliberate destruction, looting and vandalization of various health facilities in Tigray. The DX Open Network, a security research organization based in Britain discovered at least 508 structures in Tigray had been destroyed by fire in the week of 25th February 2021 in and around Gijet, Tigray. Tigray is a mainly rural region and agriculture contributes to more than half of the regional GDP, of which 36% is from crop production and 21% of livestock and forestry. The Tigray Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources reported that the seed development sector has been looted, burned, and mixed with sand in rural areas. Crop-production has been burned, looted, and damaged by tanks and other vehicles. Livestock such as animals, animal feed and resources have been slaughtered, looted, and destroyed. Natural resources such as watersheds have been damaged and destroyed. More than 40% of the 1.9 million draft oxen have been stolen or slaughtered and more than 90% of the 1.990 farm tractors in Tigray were looted or destroyed.

Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

* Identity anonymous for safety reasons.

** Some faces were blurred for safety reasons.

“Het is tegenwoordig bijna gekker om helemaal geen cosmetische ingrepen te ondergaan”

Sophie Links

“Mijn ouders zijn in Libanon getrouwd, daarna zijn ze naar Canada verhuisd waar mijn broer, zus en ik zijn geboren.” Sophie Haddad is in 1982 geboren in Canada. Haar ouders waren 28 jaar getrouwd voordat haar vader een paar jaar geleden overleed. Haar moeder en zus wonen nog in Canada, maar Sophie is samen met haar broer (die inmiddels op Ibiza woont) naar Amsterdam geëmigreerd.

Sophie Links

Sophie leert voor het eerst over het bestaan van cosmetische chirurgie rond het jaar 2000, dan is zij 18 jaar oud. Ze wist wel dat facelifts en botox bestonden, maar op dat moment werd het voor het eerst in haar omgeving gedaan. Iemand die ze kende had een borstvergroting gedaan. Ze had er niet zo’n mening over. Vond het wel mooi dat diegene blij was met het resultaat. Sophie: “Er is vanuit mijn omgeving eigenlijk nooit iemand echt op tegen geweest. Ja, mijn moeder is er geen supergroot fan, omdat ze het stom vindt dat je een operatie ondergaat en hiermee je gezondheid riskeert terwijl dit eigenlijk niet nodig is. Maar zij is ook wat meer van de oude stempel.”

Borstvergroting tijdens fitnesscompetities
Op haar negen-en-twintigste heeft Sophie een borstvergroting gedaan. Dit was in 2011. Hierbij ging ze van cup C naar Cup DD. Sophie: “Vroeger had ik grote borsten, maar toen ik veel begon te trainen voor de fitnesswedstrijden ben ik veel gewicht verloren, waaronder ook bij mijn borsten. Hierdoor had ik veel overtollig vel en was mijn lichaam niet meer in verhouding.” Een vriend destijds die in dezelfde fitness industrie zat gaf haar de tip om een borstvergroting te doen, zodat haar lichaam voor de wedstrijden weer in proportie zou komen. Sophie: “Deze borstvergroting was helemaal niet raar daar, iedereen deed het in de fitness industrie.

Verteld? “Ja, het was geen geheim. Van tevoren aan vrienden en familie, die begrepen waarom ik het deed en ondersteunde mij in mijn besluit. Mijn moeder was minder blij, zij vond het vooral eng dat ik een operatie onderging die eigenlijk niet nodig was.”

Sophie Rechts vóór borstvergroting. Bij de fitnesscompetitie

Sophie: tweede van rechts ná borstvergroting

Het is bijna raar wanneer je geen cosmetische ingrepen ondergaat
Sophie: “Naar mijn idee is cosmetische chirurgie echt totaal geen taboe meer. In de kringen waarin ik verkeer is het bijna eerder raar wanneer je niks aan je gezicht hebt veranderd. Het zou bijna eerder een taboe zijn om ouder te worden. Ook merk ik dat wanneer iemand er nog natuurlijk mooi ‘oud’ uitziet, hij of zij gewoon bijna niet wordt gelooft wanneer deze aangeeft geen cosmetische chirurgie te hebben gedaan.”

“Met vriendinnen hebben we het wekelijks over nieuwe cosmetische ingrepen”

“Een lekker turbulente jeugd in Amsterdam.” Emma Schaaf (28) is geboren in Amsterdam. Ze komt uit een gezin met gescheiden ouders en heeft een jongere zus en een (half)broer met het Asperge Syndroom. Op haar zestiende ging ze van school, en begon ze in de horeca.  Na een tijd in een nachtclub gewerkt te hebben verhuisd ze naar Ibiza, waar ze 9 jaar heeft gewoond. Nu woont ze in Manchester, Engeland waar ze werkt als persoonlijk assistent voor een event-catering bedrijf.

“De filmsterren logen glashard over hun cosmetische chirurgie”

Voor Emma heeft het gegeven plastische- en cosmetische chirurgie eigenlijk altijd al bestaan: “Je zag het overal om je heen, online en op televisie. Als ik er echt een leeftijd aan moet verbinden dat ik mij ervan bewust was denk ik dat dit rondom mijn veertiende was. Dus dat was rond 2007.” Ze had er toen nog geen mening over, behalve dat ze wist dat het bestond. Emma: “Ik kan mij nog wel herinneren dat de sterren die het op dat moment deden, het enorm aan het ontkennen waren. Dan had er weer iemand een heel nieuw gebit laten aanmeten, maar werd er glashard over gelogen, idem met facelift en botox.”

Borstvergroting: “Mijn nieuwe borsten maken mij compleet.”

Borstvergroting in 2017

Emma heeft op haar vierentwintigste in 2017 een borstvergroting laten doen. Hierbij is ze van Cup B naar Cup F gegaan: “Dit gaat raar klinken, maar sinds mijn jeugd ben ik al geobsedeerd door borsten. Rond mijn tiende zat ik op paardrijden, waar allemaal oudere meiden waren van rond de zestien. Hierdoor had ik altijd oudere vriendinnetjes. Zelf had ik uiteindelijk kleine borsten, die ik niet bij mezelf vond passen. Waardoor ik al vanaf mijn zestiende riep: ‘Wanneer ik achttien ben dan wil ik nieuwe borsten!’ Ik ben ook een heel uitgesproken persoon en ik hou ervan om te shockeren, mijn borsten voelden niet alsof ze bij mij pasten. Ze waren te gewoontjes, te saai.”

“Oh Emma wat heb je nu weer gedaan?”

Emma: “Mijn vrienden en ouders en broer en zusje wisten er natuurlijk vanaf. Mijn moeder werkt voor de GGZ en zei wel dat ik het alleen mocht doen als het bij een hele goede arts was. Uiteindelijk vond ze het wel jammer dat ik zo groot was gegaan, of nouja, niet nodig, maar ik wilde dat. Eigenlijk zou ik nog groter gaan, maar tijdens de operatie was één van de implantaten geknapt, waardoor ik een maat kleiner moest. De rest van mijn familie wist er niet van, althans zo gedroegen ze zich. Vlak na de operatie was het namelijk al vrij snel kerst, maar niemand zei er iets over. Ik had ze dan ook wel verborgen onder een trui, maar het leek erop alsof iedereen het onderwerp vermeed. Alhoewel ik moet zeggen dat het vaak zo is dat ze zeggen: ‘Oh Emma, wat heb je nu weer gedaan?’ Dus ik vermeed het onderwerp ook wel een beetje. Met mijn vrienden heb ik het er wel heel open over gehad en met mijn toenmalige vriend. Die steunde mij allemaal omdat ze wisten dat ik ze heel graag wilde. Een aantal zeiden wel dat het te groot zou zijn, om naar een Cup F te gaan, maar uiteindelijk vindt iedereen ze heel mooi, nu zijn ze allemaal jaloers op m’n tieten!”

Botox en fillers is het gesprek van de week

Emma: “Met vriendinnen hebben we het wekelijks over botox en fillers. Het is nu allemaal zo toegankelijk. Over een paar dagen ga ik het vet uit mijn kin laten wegzalven. Daar kreeg ik een appje over van een vriend, omdat hij op Instagram een aanbieding had zien staan. Ook geven we als vriendinnen tips aan elkaar wanneer de één iets aan zichzelf wil veranderen weet de ander er wel weer iets op. Of soms laat iemand uit zichzelf iets zien wat mooi was, waardoor de anderen daar misschien ook weer in mee gaan. ” Emma heeft inmiddels traangoot, – kin- en kaak fillers en lip fillers die ze elke zes maanden opnieuw laat zetten. Een taboe is het niet voor Emma en haar vrienden. Ook is ze er heel open over. Ze geeft aan dat mensen het eigenlijk nooit echt iets boeit. Af en toe een ouder persoon die zegt: ‘maar meisje je bent toch al zo mooi!’ Nou daar gaat het volgens haar nou helemaal niet om! Maar wel gaat het dan wel om? Emma: “Ik zie fillers als een soort van zelfverzorging. Net zoals je soms langs de etalage loopt en schoenen ziet staan, heb ik dat met fillers. Wanneer ik iets zie wat ik mooi vind, en ik wil het hebben, dan koop ik het. De ene maand is het schoenen en de volgende maand fillers, ja zo gaat dat!”
Daarnaast helpt het volgens haar wel enorm dat het nu zoveel goedkoper en daardoor toegankelijker is voor iedereen, waardoor het ook een steeds normaler onderwerp van gesprek is. Ook is de informatievoorziening heel goed. Emma: “Wanneer ik wil weten of iets er mooi uit ziet, dan open ik mijn sociale media, scrol ik door de foto’s, lees ik de reviews, en weet ik vaak voldoende.”

“Bij veel mensen van mijn leeftijd is cosmetische chirurgie nog steeds taboe”

Jeugdfoto Cindy Schrikkema

“Ik ben opgegroeid in een heel vrijdenkend gezin.” Cindy Schrikkema (48) is geboren en getogen in Alkmaar. Hier groeit ze op in een heel vrijdenkend gezin. Haar ouders zijn gescheiden en beide zijn hertrouwd. Samen met haar broer groeit ze op bij haar moeder, daarnaast heeft ze een halfzus en twee halfbroertjes die bij haar vader opgroeien.

Botox voor de Hollywoodsterren

Rond haar drieëntwintigste (1996) leert Cindy voor het eerst over het bestaan van plastische (cosmetische) chirurgie. Ze leerde het kennen via de televisie en het internet, dat er toen net was. Cindy: “Wij waren één van de bevoorrechten die toen al internet hadden.” Op dat moment stond het haar enorm tegen, ze zou nooit van haar leven cosmetische of plastische chirurgie ondergaan. De voorbeelden die zij had waren naar haar zeggen dan ook Connie Breukhoven (nu Connie Witteman) en Melanie Griffith, dit vond ze ontzettend lelijk. Cindy: “Er werd wel eens over gesproken. Maar plastische chirurgie dat deed je gewoon niet. Het was iets voor de rijken en de filmsterren. Daarnaast was mijn stiefvader bioloog en vond (en vind) hij dat allemaal onzin. ”

Ooglidcorrectie in 2017

Op haar vierenveertigste onderging Cindy haar eerste cosmetische chirurgie behandeling. Hierbij heeft ze een ooglidcorrectie laten doen, omdat ze door ouderdom hangende oogleden kreeg. Ongeveer twaalf jaar geleden kende ze iemand die dat had laten doen, maar hier heel stiekem over deed. Wel vond ze het heel mooi, maar het was in die tijd nog heel duur volgens Cindy. Een behandeling kostte op dat moment 1500 euro. Samen met een vriendin besloten ze hiervoor te gaan sparen en zagen ze opeens een aanbieding bij een cosmetische chirurgie praktijk, waar het maar 380 euro kost. Ze is er nog steeds heel blij mee, omdat het een frissere blik geeft.

Cindy in 2016: Vóór cosmetische chirurgie en fillers/botox

Cindy in 2019: Na cosmetische ingrepen en chirurgie

“Vrienden en familie weten het gewoon en anderen die er naar vragen vertel ik het eerlijk.” Niemand reageert er raar op. Wel heeft ze 2 jaar terug, in 2019 een botox behandeling voor haar fronsrimpel laten doen en lipfillers. Hier werd achter haar rug over geroddeld door ex-collega’s. Dit had volgens Cindy te maken met onderling ‘vrouwen-venijn’: “ze waren jaloers op mijn werkprestaties dus zochten iets om over te roddelen. Daarnaast hebben ze het nooit in mijn gezicht gezegd, alleen achter mijn rug om.” Vrienden en familie weten ook dat ze cosmetische chirurgie behandelingen doet en heeft ondergaan. Cindy: “Mijn man vindt het fantastisch die lipfillers. Vooral omdat hij weet hoe onzeker ik was over mijn bovenlip. Hij is dus vooral heel blij voor mij.” De dochter van Cindy is 24 en ondergaat zelf ook cosmetische ingrepen. Zij heeft ook lipfillers en daarnaast kaak- en kinfillers. Wat Cindy daarvan vindt? Ze vindt het wel grappig: “de jeugd is er tenminste heel open over naar elkaar, en fillers en botox zijn tijdelijk, wat ik wel zonde vind is als die jonge meiden erin doorslaan.”

Taboe in de huidsalon

Cindy werkt bij een huidsalon, waarbij ze wel eens aan klanten vertelt dat ze botox heeft gedaan: “Wanneer mensen een schoonheidsbehandeling willen voor hun fronsrimpel ben ik direct heel eerlijk tegen ze. Dan wijs ik naar mijn voorhoofd en de botox die ik zelf heb gedaan en vertel ik dat dit het beste werkt.” Cindy merkt dat er heel veel mensen zijn van haar leeftijd of ouder die cosmetische chirurgie voor hun gezicht gebruiken of willen gebruiken, maar hier helemaal niet open of eerlijk over zijn. Cindy: “Zoveel mensen die ik ken gebruiken het, maar willen vooral voor laten komen dat alles naturel is. Ik zie daar een heel groot verschil in met de generatie van mijn dochter. Vroeger was het natuurlijk ook een taboe, maar ik denk ook dat het meespeelt dat mensen gewoon niet toe willen geven dat ze de ouderdom een beetje willen verdoezelen.”

Bron CBS, 2021. Aantal ingrepen in 2019 per leeftijdscategorie. Verantwoording: Geen recentere cijfers dan 2019. Daarnaast worden hierbij de non-chirurgische cosmetische ingrepen niet meegeteld.

Van gehandicapt op aarde, naar gezond op Mars: het cryonisme

“Meneer Christensen wilt u na uw overlijden begraven, gecremeerd, of tijdelijk ingevroren worden?” “Ingevroren graag.” “Check.” Dit is hoe de Australische Toby Christensen (40) zijn lichaam het liefst geborgen ziet worden na zijn dood. Nu denkt u: ingevroren? Toby Christensen is geïnspireerd door de cryonisten-beweging en wilt na zijn dood ingevroren worden om vervolgens over een paar honderd jaar weer ‘tot leven te worden gewekt’. Sinds zijn geboorte heeft hij hersenbeschadiging en via het cryonisme wil Christensen zichzelf de kans geven op een volwaardig nieuw leven.

Het Cryonisme

Het cryonisme komt voort uit de controversiële cryonisme-beweging, welke is ontstaan in 1964 nadat Amerikaans wetenschapper Robert Ettinger het boek ‘The prospect of Immortality’ uitbracht. Dit boek gaat over hoe de mens bevroren kan worden op extreem lage temperaturen om vervolgens weer ontdooid te worden door toekomstige generaties. Het boek is gebaseerd op een sciencefiction verhaal maar bleef niet onopgemerkt. Na de publicatie van Ettinger zijn boek volgenden er verschillende experimenten door biologen om te kijken of het cryonisme ook daadwerkelijk uitvoerbaar is. Zo werden er onder andere kattenhersenen door Japanse hoogleraren bevroren. Bij deze bevriezing vervingen zij het bloed in de hersenen door antivriesmiddel om celbeschadiging te voorkomen. Na zes maanden werden de hersenen weer ontdooid en werd het anti-vriesmiddel terug vervangen voor bloed. Na een eeg-scan bleek dat de hersenen weer activiteit begonnen te vertonen. Nu hopen cryonisten dat dit met het menselijk lichaam ook gaat werken in de toekomst. Het belangrijkst hierbij is dat het lichaam binnen een paar uur na overlijden afgekoeld moet worden tot minstens -130 graden Celsius. Op dit moment zijn er verschillende instituten die op dit moment mensen ‘cryo’ preserveren, één van de bekendste is het Cryonics Institute in Amerika. Zij tellen op dit moment 1780 leden, waarvan 14 Nederlanders, die na hun dood ingevroren willen worden. Sommigen zien het als de weg naar het eeuwige leven, andere zien het als een kans op genezing. Toby Christensen behoort tot de laatste groep.

Leven met een hersenbeschadiging

Ik heb gedrags-, mentale-, en fysieke problemen

Toby Christensen is geboren in Queensland, maar woont nu onder begeleiding in Melbourne, Australië. Hij heeft een hersenbeschadiging die bij zijn geboorte als tweeling is ontstaan: “bij de geboorte zijn mijn broertje, moeder en ik bijna overleden. We zijn 3 maanden te vroeg geboren waardoor we een twin-to-twin bloedtransfusie moesten ondergaan. Dit heeft tot hersenbeschadiging geleid bij mij en mijn broer.” Zijn handicaps maken het moeilijk om zelfstandig te leven: “Ik heb gedrags-, mentale-, én fysieke problemen.” Zijn eigen veters strikken lukt niet, ook raakt hij snel de weg kwijt. Christensen: “De neuroloog heeft laatst een hersenscan gemaakt en zei: ‘Als ik naar de beschadigingen in jouw hersenen kijk dan zou je nu een kasplantje moeten zijn’.”

Ondanks zijn hersenbeschadiging laat Christensen zich niet weerhouden om zich op verschillende manieren te ontwikkelen. Hij speelt graag Dungeons en Dragons, bokst en wil binnenkort Vietnamees of Tibetaans leren. Daarnaast houdt hij van wandelen: “ik woon in een prachtige multiculturele stad waar ik graag doorheen wandel en mensen ontmoet die heel anders zijn dan ik zelf. Soms zijn mensen verrast wanneer ze mij als witte man door hun buurt zien lopen. Jammer vind ik dat, want uiteindelijk praten we altijd heel leuk.” Uiteindelijk is het zijn ultieme droom om professor in de bio-ethiek te worden, waarbij hij zich wil focussen op de genezing van handicaps. Christensen: “Voorheen heb ik Indiginous Studies gestudeerd, dit ging aardig, ik heb alleen moeite met lezen soms.”

Eerste kennismaking met het Cryonisme

Je hebt meer kans om de loterij te winnen dan dat het cryonisme gaat werken, volgens mij is dat één op een paar biljoen.

Why call them back from heaven?’ is het boek dat Christensen erbij pakte toen een goede vriend van hem overleed aan een hersentumor. Een fictief boek waarin het cryonisme beschreven staat. Christensen: “ik was ooit aan het boek begonnen, maar heb het toen nooit uitgelezen omdat het te deprimerend was, wel realiseerde ik mij hoe mooi het had kunnen zijn als mijn vriend ingevroren had kunnen worden. Het is een welgestelde familie, die het waarschijnlijk ook had kunnen betalen.” Voor een lidmaatschap bij het Cryonics Institute betaal je zo’n 35.000 dollar per jaar, waar nog extra transport en preservering kosten bij komen. Christensen: “De huidige wetenschap kon mijn vriend niet meer redden, maar als hij ingevroren had geworden, dan hadden de wetenschappers van de toekomst hem misschien wel kunnen genezen.”

Deze gedachte is de grootste drijfveer voor Christensen om geld te sparen om uiteindelijk ook zijn lichaam in te laten vriezen. Christensen: “Ik besefte mij dat het heel onwaarschijnlijk is dat ik voor mijn dood genezen zal worden van mijn handicaps. Het cryonisme is voor mij dus niet simpel een middel tot levensverlenging, maar juist een kans om genezing te vergroten.” Idealiter zou hij willen dat mensen met een handicap of ziekte voorrang krijgen op het cryonisme: “Ik zie het cryonisme als een humanitaire beweging om te genezen en mensen hun leven te verlengen. Eigenlijk zou er een fonds moeten komen voor gehandicapten en zieke mensen zodat iedereen de kans kan krijgen op cryonics, niet alleen wanneer je veel geld hebt.”

Op de vraag of het geloof in het cryonisme hem helpt zijn beperkingen te accepteren in het huidige leven antwoord hij: “Je hebt meer kans om de loterij te winnen dan dat het cryonisme gaat werken, volgens mij is dat één op een paar biljoen. Toch is dit voor mij de enige kans tot genezing en een volwaardig leven, dus ook al is de kans heel klein dat het gaat lukken wil ik hem toch nemen.”

Vrienden en familie

Toen Christensen zich begon te verdiepen in het cryonisme begon hij er gefixeerd door te raken. Christensen: “We zijn door de jaren heen een aantal hele lieve mensen verloren aan ziektes, telkens suggereerde ik aan mijn moeder dat zij ingevroren zouden kunnen worden voor een kans op genezing, maar mijn moeder zei steeds ‘Toby dat hadden ze niet gewild’. In plaats daarvan zijn ze nu begraven of gecremeerd en wordt hiermee hun hele lichaam automatisch vernietigd.” De stiefvader van Christensen wil niets van het cryonisme weten. Christensen: “Mijn stiefvader heeft de leer van het boeddhisme gevolgd en is daardoor tegen het cryonisme. Mijn moeder begrijpt mijn beweegredenen wel waarom ik het wil, maar ze wil het niet voor zichzelf.” De tweelingbroer van Christensen steunt hem in zijn wil om ingevroren te worden en helpt hem ook het geld bij elkaar te sparen. Daarnaast heeft hij nog broers, die maken er vooral grappen over zegt Christensen lachend: “dan zeggen ze bijvoorbeeld ‘volgens mij zijn je hersenen nog niet helemaal goed ontdooid’.”


Christensen: “De laatste tijd heb ik veel nagedacht over hoe de toekomst eruit zal komen te zien. Ten eerste wil ik genezen worden. Ik zie het voor mij dat de dokters zeggen ‘Hey Christensen we hebben een package-deal’ op dit moment. We kunnen je genezen, maar ook verhoogde cognitieve vaardigheden geven die in jouw tijd niet bestonden’.” Daarnaast hoopt hij dat de mens over honderd jaar in ieder geval Mars en de maan hebben gekoloniseerd en dat de mensen allemaal wat liever voor elkaar zijn. Christensen: “Ik hoop op een soort van gecentraliseerde wereldpolitiek, waardoor er geen oorlogen meer gevoerd hoeven worden. Ook hoop ik dat mensen van verschillende etniciteit gemengd worden waardoor er geen racisme meer bestaat.” Naïef is hij niet: “Tuurlijk weet ik dat mensen nog steeds akkefietjes met elkaar zullen hebben, maar het lijkt mij zo mooi als mensen wat meer hebben geleerd van de conflicten van nu.”

Influence of US elections on Europe, the Union, and its citizens

Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States of America. He got elected on Tuesday, the 3rd of November, 2020. The whole world was watching, was it going to be Trump or Biden? An election that doesn’t only influence the US but as well Europe and therefore the European Union. The question is what does the new presidential election in the US actually mean for Europe, the European Union, and its citizens?

The US elections, and -relations with Europe, through the eyes of a Europe-based American citizen.

Kerry Waananen 32 years old, originally from a small town in Colorado, but lived for the past seven years in Seattle. A few years ago, he was studying in China where he met a Dutch woman, who was teaching English there. They fell in love, got married and now they live together in the Netherlands, for just over 2 years. Kerry considers himself at the moment as an American transitioning into a European, because of the immigration rules in the Netherlands: After you marry a Dutch national, you must integrate into Dutch society, to obtain a Dutch Passport and full Dutch citizenship. But he is seeking to obtain full European citizenship.

Kerry and his wife sat down every night to watch the US elections. He was cooking when it happened. The results came in after days of waiting. Kerry realizes how the whole world was consumed with the US election battle between Trump and Biden.  The presidential elections of the United States were not only consuming US citizens, but also in the Netherlands, and the rest of Europe people were following it close by.

Journalist Nan Cao speaks with Kerry on the phone to ask him how he perceives the election process, the outcome of the elections, and the possible influence of these elections on the EU, from an ‘American transitioning into a European’ perspective.


What do EU experts have to say about the transitioning from Trump to Biden in the White House? Joseph Borrell, EU High presentative/Vice-president wrote in his blog post Let’s make the most of this new chapter in EU-US relations, how grateful Europe is with the election of Biden. But is this really true? What isn’t mentioned in this article that Poland, Slovenia, and Hungary are way less happy with the election of Biden. They were all rooting for Trump. Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, was praised for his anti-migrant policies by Trump, and Janez Jänsa, the prime minister of Slovenia, stated that he respected Biden as a person, but that he will be one of the weakest presidents in history.

Frederico Romero is a Professor of History of Post-War European Cooperation and Integration from the European University Institute and explains what the election of Biden will mean for Europe: “I think most European governments are quite happy to have Biden in the White House, rather than fine. Yeah, there might be two or three that were disappointed, particularly Hungary, and Poland because they had an affinity with Trump in the first place. In second, because, particularly from Poland, the Trump administration was giving them a lot of support, for example through the removal of the requirement for visas for Polish people, and protection against Russia. But I think in general, the European government and especially b2b (business-to-business companies) countries, Germany, France, feel much more comfortable with Biden. Because he has a strong sense of Atlantic connections and feels the importance of NATO, strong allies, multilateral cooperation, climate, defense, and trade.”.

Romero doesn’t think that the elections will bring disturbance to the European political climate: “I think countries like Poland and Hungary will accept the outcome of the elections, and besides, their relevancy decisions about European foreign policy are much smaller than the countries, therefore these two or three countries can’t possibly deeply affect the European Union’s foreign affairs.”. To the question if Europe is too dependent on the US, Romero is answering the following: “I think this trend to create a Europe that is less dependent on the US and more capable of expressing its own foreign policy and strategy will go on. Nonetheless, it will go on more cooperatively with the US, rather than the fractured and antagonistic they had during the Trump administration. Because Biden is a trans-Atlantic person and certainly finds cooperation and transatlantic relations important.”.

Through the eyes of female war reporter: Minka Nijhuis

The previous article “The safety position of female war reporters: Sexual intimidation and Abuse” described the sexual abuse and intimidation women might go through during their work as a war reporter, and how they get prepared to enter a war zone beforehand. This time Minka Nijhuis, war reporter for 30 years, will tell her story as a female war reporter.

From the outside, it looks like a regular bar in Amsterdam, but inside the bar, it feels like entering an oasis of peace and quietness, something Minka Nijhuis isn’t used to. Cambodia, Burma, Kosovo, East-Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are the conflict areas and dictatorship countries, where Nijhuis has been working and writing about for the past 30 years.

Sexual harassment as a female war journalist

The International News Institute (INSI) conducted several surveys with female reporters on sexual harassment within the job. In 2005 the survey was focused on female war journalists, with the outcome that half of the respondents reported being sexually harassed or abused within the job. In 2014 they conducted the latest survey with female reporters in general. Here the outcome was that nearly two-thirds of the respondents reported having experienced sexual harassment or violence during the job.

Do you think female war reporters are extra vulnerable to sexual harassment?

Nijhuis: “I don’t want to sound naïve, but I think that women can face sexual harassment everywhere in the world, not extra as a war journalist. The most important way to stay safe and avoid sexual harassment is a good preparation by building a network you can trust.”

Peter ter Velde, safety trainer and security coordinator for the NOS, points out that the biggest threat for sexual harassment for female war lays within the personal environment of the war reporter. For example, the local taxi driver, the local guide, or the local translator. He also points out that they always tell female war journalists traveling into Muslim countries is to tell that you’re married and make sure to change this on your social media as well.

Do you prepare a special background story yourself when you enter a warzone for your work?

Nijhuis: “First of all I think that making up lies to people who are risking their lives for you is a very disrespectful thing to do. Second, advocating for changing your Facebook profile and always say you’re married as a female war journalist when you go to Muslim or Arabic countries, I would say is a rather dangerous thing to do. Because if you go further on this thought, of generalization about Muslim countries, the next question would be ‘why would your husband let you go alone.’ You depend on the relationship with the people you work with. Of course, a small lie sometimes is okay, if you feel it’s necessary at that moment. But none of my fellow experienced female war reporting colleagues would give this is standardized advice before going into a conflict area.”.

“As a freelancer, you make sure you ask your colleagues for contacts in the area. When you work somewhere for a longer time, the bond you’re creating becomes stronger and stronger over the years. Don’t forget that you’re not only checking the people you’re going to work with, but they will also be checking you. Because you’re not the only one going into a dangerous situation. I’ve got some people that I owe my life to during these 30 years of reporting. And many people that went through great risks helping me and being warm and hospitable. This is why it touches me so much when I hear these generalizations about local people or Muslim countries made.”.

In an interview, you said: “Empathy is important in war-reporting and this is something I often miss.” What exactly do you mean by this statement?

Nijhuis: “For example, when you look at words, we are using now to describe refugee situations ‘the first LOAD of refugees arrived’, the ‘Turkey deal’ or ‘Tsunami of refugees’ these words are all dehumanizing and hiding and obscuring the fact that the story is about people. I find this a very worrying trend. Especially in a period where politics are to a large extent influenced by populism. Politicians are playing with feelings of fear, making the ‘other’ the enemy, playing up dangers, and I think that it is our duty as journalists to be very responsible with the words we use during our work.”

How to not dehumanize the situation when you write about war?

Nijhuis: “One of the advantages I have is having more time to do my work since my work as journalism exists of what I call slow journalism: following places and people for a long time. I Follow their daily life from very close-by and from these small chronicles I zoom out to the larger context for the analysis and the historical context. It’s much harder to fulfill this as a news journalist when you’re under this tremendous pressure of delivering fast news. So, I don’t want to judge. But I have the luxury that I have the time to spend with people to get to know the story, and I guess that it’s also just a natural thing. I don’t know any other way. If I don’t feel the need to describe the kind of effects a war or living under a dictatorship has on people’s lives, I would rather quit my job.

Minka Nijhuis describes a vivid special moment she’s been through while reporting in the field:


The safety position of female war reporters: sexual intimidation and abuse

What are the biggest threats you can face as a war journalist: flying bullets, violence, or kidnapping? Yes, for sure all of these are serious threats but those are not the only threats a female war journalist has to deal with. Ayo Awokoya is a female British war journalist who specializes in her journalism career about Africa. She wrote an article for GQ Hype Magazine in 2019 about her experiences as a female war reporter. She described the threat of sexual abuse and assault you can face as a female war journalist. One of the (most shocking) pieces of advice she received was to wear a swimsuit underneath her clothes, to act as an additional barrier to buy time in case of sexual assault. Sadly, Awokoya isn’t the only female war journalist facing the risk of sexual assault and abuse, she is one of many.

Sexual assault and abuse

The International News and Safety Institute (INSI) conducted the global survey “Women reporting on war” in 2010. For this survey, they interviewed thirty-one female war reporters. Half of the women reported that they have been sexually harassed or abused during their work as war reporters. One of the outcomes of this survey was that a high number of women called for self-defense to be made an intrinsic part of the safety training which prepares journalists to work in conflict areas.

Now ten years later, are there any changes in the safety position of female war reporters in regard to sexual harassment or abuse? And do female war reporters receive different safety training than their male colleagues? To help answer these questions, correspondent Nan Cao Blokhuis spoke with Peter ter Velde, safety trainer and security coordinator for the NOS foreign news desk. The NOS is one of the partners of the INSI and is the national news outlet from The Netherlands. When you want to become a war reporter for the NOS you are obligated to follow safety training before going into a conflict area.

Ter Velde has 15 years of experience as a war journalist and went to places like Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.  When asked about his work Ter Velde explained how he trains journalists to prepare them for working in conflict zones: “Together with the Dutch Royal Land Force, we give a three-day training course twice a year where we train war journalists to prepare for their work in conflict areas. During the training, we prepare them for all sorts of situations they can come across. On the first day, we focus on preparation for the travel, how to behave once arrived at your destination, and how to behave in the assigned conflict area. On the second and the third day we do theory and practice with simulations of real-time experiences. Think about stressful situations due to roadblocks, booby-traps, and hostage.”

There is no self-defense training for female war reporters against sexual harassment or abuse in this course. Ter Velde: “We only have three days of training. Self-defense isn’t something you can easily learn in one afternoon. Plus, a self-defense class isn’t going to help you when you’re surrounded by bad men who want something from you. But we do give special attention to female war reporters focused on sexual harassment and abuse. For this part, we have a female specialist trainer who has experience in the field herself and who can help women prepare for cautious situations.” Ter Velde states that the biggest threat to sexual harassment or abuse actually lays within the personal environment of the female war reporter: “It’s often the personal driver, the translator, or the ‘local guy’ that guides you around, that women need to be cautious about. As a reporter, you depend on these people. You can think you’re building a friendship connection, but they can interpret it in a different way. Especially when you’re in Muslim countries. They have different cultures and are not used to women going about their life alone. One of the big rules we give to female war reporters going into Muslim countries is to always say that you’re married. Make sure it says it on your Facebook page as well and that you have a picture with your ‘husband’. It doesn’t matter if it is your brother in the picture instead, or an actual husband, just make sure it’s covered. This part of the preparation is called your digital safety. Make sure you know exactly what people can find about you on the internet.”

Did sexual harassment and abuse towards female war reporters increase or decrease over the years? Ter Velde: “I don’t think there has been any change, to be honest, I feel sexual intimidation and abuse is something that didn’t get worse or better over the years. But I can’t say this with certainty because there are no hard numbers at the moment.”

Amsterdam is niets waard zonder toeristen

De Amsterdamse Nieuwmarkt is normaal gesproken afgeladen met toeristen en volle terrassen, maar vandaag is het er stil. Niet alleen de Nieuwmarkt maar heel Amsterdam is veranderd in een spookstad. Het enige wat je hoort is het gesuis van de wind, gebrom van een paar voorbijrijdende auto’s en het gekraak van enkele fietsen. Het is 6 mei 2020 en de wereld wordt in zijn greep gehouden door een pandemie, Covid-19. In verschillende delen van de wereld wordt een nationale lockdown gehouden om verspreiding van de influenza te voorkomen, zo ook in Nederland.

Het CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) onderzocht in 2007 het mogelijke gedrag van mensen ten tijde van een pandemie op basis van een simulatie. De simulatie was gebaseerd op de SARS-influenza. Uit het onderzoek bleek dat de meeste respondenten aangaven het openbaar vervoer te mijden en 20 tot 30 procent geheel binnen zou blijven om besmetting te voorkomen.

Nu hebben we daadwerkelijk te dealen met een pandemie en zijn de straten van Amsterdam bijna geheel leeg. Een stad die normaal gesproken gevuld wordt met toeristen, muzikanten en straatartiesten. Wat voor invloed hebben de lege straten op straatartiesten en muzikanten? Valt er nog iets te verdienen? Om hierachter te komen gaat journalist Nan Cao Blokhuis de straat op.

Het is mei en het is een mooie zonnige lentedag. Het plein op de Nieuwmarkt is leeg en stil. Plots schalt er een luide stem over het lege plein. Het blijkt een man van middelbare leeftijd die wordt vergezeld door een man en een vrouw. De man zwaait druk met zijn handen en vertelt luidt over De Waag, het 15e-eeuws gebouw op de Nieuwmarkt dat oorspronkelijk een stadspoort was. Nu is het een restaurant met terras welke normaal gesproken vol zit met toeristen. Nu liggen de terrasstoeltjes opgestapeld over de tafels heen. Er is geen toerist te bekennen.

Uit cijfers van het CBS blijkt dat in Amsterdam in 2019 ruim 9 miljoen toeristen kwamen, waarvan het grootste deel uit het buitenland. Er zijn nog geen officiële cijfers die kunnen aantonen hoe sterk het toerisme precies is afgenomen tijdens de coronacrisis. Wel heeft de organisatie NBTC Holland Marketing, die Nederland promoot voor toerisme en zakelijke bijeenkomsten, een rapport op gesteld om hier een indicatie van te maken. Uit dit rapport blijkt dat het aantal bezoekers op in de week van 5 mei 2020 met 66% is teruggelopen. Ook blijkt uit het rapport van dat de bezettingsgraad van hotels in Amsterdam in april 2019 zo’n 85,7% was en in april 2020 slechts 7,4%.

Op de achtergrond is het geronk van een politieauto te horen. Daarnaast rijden er twee politiescooters het plein op en lopen er twee mannen in blauwe uniformen langs. Het aantal politieagenten om de lockdown te handhaven lijkt ver buiten proporties tegenover de enkele burgers die zich op straat bevinden.

Wanneer je vanaf de Nieuwmarkt naar de Dam toe fietst klinkt vanuit de verte al een echo van gepraat en muziek. Hoewel het lang niet zo druk is als normaal op de Dam zijn er hier meer mensen dan op de Nieuwmarkt. “Klik, klik” een paar verdwaalde toeristen nemen foto’s van de kransen die gister tijdens de dodenherdenking voor het Nationaal Monument op de Dam zijn gelegd.

Drie levende standbeelden staan over de Dam verspreid. Allen zijn in het zwart gehuld met een masker op verkleed als Magere Hein. “DING, DONG, DING, DONG” je oren suizen door het galmen van de kerkklokken die nu extra hard klinken over de bijna geheel lege Dam. De levende standbeelden worden door enkele omstanders op de foto gezet, maar niemand komt dichtbij. Wil je als journalist een vraag stellen dan moet je betalen voor het antwoord. Magere Hein: “Elke twintig cent telt al helemaal nu er bijna geen toeristen zijn. Zonder toeristen is Amsterdam niets waard. Je mag blij zijn wanneer je op een dag twintig euro verdient in deze tijden.”.

Er zijn geen harde cijfers over hoeveel een straatartiest gemiddeld verdient op een dag. Dit komt onder andere doordat er veel verschillende plekken zijn waar je als straatartiest aan de slag kunt. Ook heeft de act effect op de inkomsten. Straatartiest Dirk-Jan van der Schaaf werd in 2010 geïnterviewd door de Volkskrant. Hij staat met zijn act op de Dam. Dirk-Jan geeft aan dat een show van een half uur twintig tot honderd euro kan opleveren, maar dat wanneer het regent hij soms ook drie weken geen inkomsten heeft als straatartiest. Ook levend standbeeld Eveline Beuman werd in 2017 geïnterviewd door VICE waarbij ze aangaf als levend standbeeld twintig tot vijfendertig euro per dag te verdienen.

Luide muziek klinkt door de speakers van een stereo. Rondom de stereo staat een groepje mensen te dansen. Ze bewegen vrij in het rond en geven een sfeerimpressie van de jaren ’60. Voor het Koninklijk Paleis staat een politiebusje met zes agenten die op de bus leunen en van het zonnetje lijken te genieten.


Een stel bestaande uit een blondine en een in polo geklede man loopt langs. Ze worden vergezeld door een schoothondje. Magere Hein lijkt tot leven te komen, springt van zijn zetel af en begint met zijn handen de vacht van het hondje te aaien. Vervolgens wordt het hondje opgepakt en drukt hij hem dicht tegen zich aan. Het stelletje kijkt een beetje verbaasd met opgetrokken wenkbrauwen. Er verschijnt een ongemakkelijk lachje op hun gezicht. Ze maken echter wel een praatje met Magere Hein: “Normaal gesproken wanneer het hier zo ontzettend druk is maken mensen slechts een foto en gaan dan heel snel weer weg.”. Na het praatje klinkt er gerinkel van muntjes die in het bakje van Magere Hein worden gegooid.

Aan de rand van het plein zit een straatmuzikant. Een in zwart gehulde man met cowboyhoed en klarinet. Hij mist een aantal tanden en zegt dat hij geen Nederlands spreekt. Hij zit op een stoeltje met op anderhalve meter van hem vandaan een centenbakje op pootjes wat veel weg heeft van een campingkrukje in miniatuur. Het centenbakje is leeg. Man met de klarinet: “Ik spreek geen Nederlands, wel Russisch en Servisch. Ik verdien vijftien tot twintig euro per dag als ik geluk heb. Ik woon nu zeven jaar in Nederland.”. De man met de klarinet verduidelijkt dit door zeven vingers in de lucht te steken, waarbij zijn pink een beetje gebogen staat. Het Nederlands komt er wat gebrekkig uit, maar de woorden die hij spreekt zijn verstaanbaar. De kerkklokken galmen nog steeds over het plein heen. Wanneer de kerkklokken zijn opgehouden klinkt er muziek uit zijn klarinet. Een jongen loopt op hem af en werpt mutjes in het bakje. De man met de hoed knikt vriendelijk.

Straatmuzikant Annelies Jonkers speelt op een autoharp. Zij zegt positieve reacties te krijgen op haar spel tijdens de coronacrisis: “Eerst waren het vooral de toeristen die stil bleven staan en liepen Amsterdammers vaak haastig door. Nu zijn er geen toeristen, maar alle Amsterdammers die langslopen lijken het veel rustiger aan te doen en blijven dus vaker staan om een praatje te maken. Ze vinden het vaak heel leuk dat ik nog speel en een beetje vrolijkheid op straat breng.”. Wel zegt Annelies dat ze aan het begin van de coronacrisis niet kon rondkomen als straatmuzikant: “In het begin was er bijna niemand op straat en mensen hadden ook geen cash bij zich. Toen deed ik het echt voor mijn plezier, om nog een klein beetje sfeer op straat te maken.”.

Toch lijken de inkomsten voor de straatartiesten weer bij te trekken ten opzichte van het begin van de lockdown. Magere Hein: “In deze tijden staan we gemiddeld met slechts drie standbeelden op de Dam en minder muzikanten en straatartiesten. Normaal gesproken staat de Dam helemaal vol met gemiddeld tien levende standbeelden. De concurrentie tijdens de lockdown is dus veel minder.”. Annelies Jonkers stelt ook dat er een stuk minder straatmuzikanten op straat zijn, waardoor de concurrentie minder is.

Achter Magere Hein zijn inmiddels kinderen aan het rondrennen en grote zeepbellen aan het blazen. De klanken van de man met de klarinet zijn op de achtergrond te horen.

Wanneer kunnen we klimaatvluchtelingen verwachten in Europa?

Leven in een authentiek houten huisje op een eiland met witte zandstranden, palmbomen en uitzicht op de Stille Oceaan. Een romantisch scenario die tot de verbeelding spreekt en voor velen klinkt als een droom. Deze droom is voor Katoa en zijn gezin werkelijkheid maar begint langzaam te veranderen in een nachtmerrie. Katoa en zijn gezin wonen samen met meer dan 600.000 mensen op de Salomonseilanden. Hun leefomgeving wordt bedreigd door de stijgende zeespiegel. Het zout van het stijgende zeewater tast de bodem steeds verder aan, waardoor oogsten mislukken en het grondwater onbruikbaar wordt om te gebruiken als drinkwater. De vraag is hoelang de eilandbewoners hier nog kunnen blijven voordat zij genoodzaakt zijn hun leefomgeving te verlaten. Het verhaal van Katoa en de eilandbewoners van de Salomonseilanden staat niet op zichzelf. Wereldwijd zijn mensen genoodzaakt hun leefomgeving te verlaten, omdat hun middelen van bestaan of hun fysieke bestaan wordt bedreigd als gevolg van klimaatverandering.

De klimaatvluchteling

Zo ontvluchtte Ioane Teitiota in 2015 de eilandengroep Kiribati. Hij ontvluchtte Kiribati omdat ook zijn leefomgeving werd bedreigd als gevolg van de stijgende zeespiegel. Wanneer zeewater stijgt wordt het grondwater aangetast door het zoute water, gaan er steeds meer oogsten verloren en is er niet genoeg schoon drinkwater. (McNamara & Des Combes, 2015). Naast mislukkende oogsten wordt het fysieke bestaan van de eilandengroep bedreigd. Zo

kocht de regering van Kiribati in 2014 een stuk land op Fiji om toekomstige vluchtelingen te kunnen evacueren. Er wordt namelijk verwacht dat Kiribati uiteindelijk geheel onder de zeespiegel zal verdwijnen (Republic of Kiribati, 2014).

Ioane probeerde asiel aan te vragen in Nieuw-Zeeland, maar dit werd hem ontzegt, omdat het begrip klimaatvluchteling niet is erkent in de internationale wetgeving waardoor hier ook geen asiel voor kan worden gegeven. Volgens de VN (1951) is een vluchteling een persoon die zijn land moet ontvluchten op basis van reële angst om vervolgd te worden in zijn land op basis van ras, religie, nationaliteit, politieke of sociale groepering of overtuiging. Klimaatverandering daarentegen zorgt er tot nu toe voor dat mensen intern hun leefgebied moeten verlaten en geen grenzen over hoeven waardoor ze niet vallen onder de term ‘vluchteling’. Echter werd het verhaal van Ioane opgepakt door verschillende media  wat de discussie over het wel of niet bestaan van klimaatvluchtelingen aanwakkerde. De VN erkent dat er mensen genoodzaakt hun leefomgeving moeten verlaten als gevolg van klimaatverandering. Na de casus van Ioane stelde de VN dat een persoon wiens mensenrechten worden bedreigd als gevolg van klimaatverandering wel asiel moeten kunnen vragen.

Ook op de Salomonseilanden worden de mensenrechten van de eilandbewoners bedreigd. Katoa laat zien hoe de huizen op het eiland verwoest worden: “Het stijgende zeewater verwoest een huis aan de rand van het eiland in slechts een jaar tijd.”.  Zes van de Salomonseilanden zijn al voor de helft onder water komen te staan en vijf eilanden zijn helemaal verdwenen onder het wateroppervlak. De vijf verdronken eilanden waren belangrijk voor de eilandbewoners, omdat deze dienden als voedingsbron. Men ging hier vissen om zo hun families van voedsel te kunnen voorzien.

Salomonseilanden: foto: Peter Hendrie/ Lonely Planet

Het begrip klimaatvluchteling is moeilijk te definiëren.  Volgens het VN-vluchtelingenverdrag (1951) mag een persoon niet worden teruggestuurd naar een land waar hun leven gevaar loopt. Een klimaatvluchteling is een persoon waarvan de middelen van bestaan en het fysieke bestaan worden bedreigd als gevolg van klimaatverandering.

Waar komen de meeste klimaatvluchtelingen vandaan?

Klimaatverandering zorgt ervoor dat de natuur steeds extremere vormen gaat aannemen. Het Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) heeft in 2018 onderzocht hoeveel mensen wereldwijd hun leefomgeving moesten verlaten als gevolg van natuurrampen. Hieruit bleek dat meer dan 17 miljoen mensen in 2018 hierdoor hun leefomgeving moesten ontvluchten. Droogte, bosbranden, aardverschuivingen en extreme temperaturen waren hierbij de grootste oorzaken. Ook cyclonen, tyfoons en orkanen zorgden ervoor dat mensen hun leefomgeving moesten verlaten. Daarnaast werden meer dan 5 miljoen mensen uit hun leefgebied verdreven door overstromingen.

Meisje neemt waterflesje aan in extreme droogte in Punta Gallinas

Uit het onderzoeksrapport van het IDMC blijkt dat de Filipijnen, China en India verantwoordelijk zijn voor het grootst aantal mensen dat hun huis moesten ontvluchten in 2018. Gevolgd door de Verenigde Staten, Indonesië, Nigeria, Somalië, Afghanistan, Kenia en Myanmar.

Deze cijfers lijken voor Europeanen nog enigszins ver weg, maar niets is minder waar. Ook in Europa hebben we te maken met klimaatverandering en ook in Europa vormen extreme weersomstandigheden een bedreiging.

Welke Europese landen worden als eerst bedreigd door klimaatverandering?

Uit het IDMC-rapport blijkt dat in Griekenland in 2018 meer dan 9.000 mensen hun leefomgeving moesten ontvluchten als gevolg van overstromingen die werden veroorzaakt door hevige stormen. Daarnaast zorgde extreme hitte voor bosbranden waarbij 3.000 huizen verwoest werden in de Griekse regio Attica. Ook in Italië moesten 1300 mensen hun huis verlaten als gevolg van een overstroming en een storm.

Overstromingen en droogte gaan met elkaar gepaard blijkt uit het rapport van het European Environment Agency (EMA) uit 2017. Daarnaast worden alle natte regio’s in Europa natter en alle droge regio’s droger. Het EMA heeft Europa in verschillende regio’s opgedeeld om een duidelijk overzicht te krijgen van de klimaatontwikkelingen.  Zo is te zien dat in het Arctische gebied de temperatuur veel hoger zal stijgen en het ijs sneller smelt dan in de rest van de wereld.  Op Groenland ontdooit de permafrost sneller dan verwacht. In permafrost zit koolstof die bij dooi in de lucht vrijkomt en verandert in koolstofdioxide wat ervoor zorgt dat de aarde nog sneller opwarmt (Dit blijkt uit het onderzoek van geoloog Kimberly Wickland, waarin het verband tussen ontdooiende permafrost en CO2 wordt onderzocht.).

In de Atlantische regio zijn er extremere weersomstandigheden welke leiden tot een groeiend risico tot overstromingen en winterse stormen. In de Berggebieden is de temperatuurtoename hoger dan in de rest van Europa. In de Kustgebieden vormt vooral de temperatuurstijging van het zeewater een bedreiging. Zo krijgen vissers te kampen met mislukkende visvangsten en zorgt de opwarming van het zeewater ervoor dat de kans op orkanen in Europa toeneemt. Professor meteorologie Bert Holtslag: “De zeeën worden steeds warmer als gevolg van de opwarming van de aarde. Deze zeeën dienen als energiebron voor orkanen. Is de temperatuur te laag dan buigt een orkaan af.”. Tropische cyclonen ofwel orkanen ontstaan meestal in Afrika, gaan door naar het Caribisch gebied, buigen af naar de Verenigde Staten, Mexico of de Antillen, maar kunnen via de onderkant van IJsland ook afbuigen naar Europa. Holtslag: “Tot nu toe was de zeewatertemperatuur in Europa altijd te laag om een orkaan in stand te houden waardoor deze afzwakte tot een storm, maar door de opwarming va de aarde neemt ook het risico op orkanen in Europa toe. Kijk maar, we hebben in het verleden al te maken gehad met zogenaamde superstormen.”.


Waar in de Boreale regio er een toenemend risico is op winterse stormen, is er in de Continentale regio juist een toename van extreme hitte, bosbranden en overstromingen. Holtslag: “Op het moment dat de lucht warmer is houdt deze meer vocht vast en hangt er meer waterdamp in de lucht, wanneer het dan gaat regenen is de regenval heviger wat weer kan leiden tot overstromingen.”. Tot slot heb je het Mediterrane gebied. Hier krijgen ze te maken met extreme hitte en droogte. Dit zorgt voor een verhoogd risico op bosbranden en minder biodiversiteit wat de agricultuur in gevaar brengen.

Professor meteoroloog Bert Holtslag denkt dat er voorlopig nog geen klimaatvluchtelingen in Europa zullen zijn. Mits dit inhoudt dat mensen hun landsgrenzen moeten ontvluchten. Holtslag: “We merken al dat het klimaat verandert. In sommige gebieden in Europa zoeken mensen tijdens extreme hitte nu al de verkoeling op. Ook zijn er mensen die hun huis moeten verlaten als gevolg van natuurrampen. Maar dit zijn geen klimaatvluchtelingen want zij kunnen nog beschutting binnen de eigen landsgrenzen vinden.”. Echter zouden we het begrip klimaatvluchteling los moeten zien van grenzen, aangezien klimaatverandering grensoverschrijdende problemen met zich meebrengt. Als je dán kijkt naar hoeveel Europeanen er in de toekomst of misschien nu al geen middelen van bestaan meer hebben, en waarvan het fysieke bestaan wordt bedreigd als gevolg van klimaatverandering, dan zou je kunnen stellen dat klimaatvluchtelingen al wél in de nabije toekomst in Europa verwacht kunnen worden.