Balkanroute: Mee met de vluchtelingentrein

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PHOTOS: MARIELLE VAN UITERT

Geschreven voor De Tijd in november, 2015

Iedere dag reizen duizenden vluchtelingen met de trein door de Balkan, op weg naar een beter leven in West-Europa. Ze zijn uitgeput, want voor slapen of douchen is geen tijd.

Overal staan sporttassen en zakken vol spullen. De muren van de wagon zijn bespoten met graffiti. Het ruikt er naar zweet, eten en viezigheid. De vluchtelingen uit Syrië, Afghanistan en Irak hebben al dagenlang geen douche gezien. De meesten vallen uitgeput in slaap, anderen lopen nerveus heen en weer. Continue reading

Articles Middle East, Iraq (Kurdistan), Syria

Het stille leed van de Yezidi-vrouwen

‘Niemand hier heeft haar man nog. We zijn helemaal alleen’

DUHOK– Duizenden Yezidi-vrouwen werden het afgelopen jaar door Islamitische Staat (IS) tot slaaf gemaakt en verkracht. Een deel wist te ontsnappen. Zij keerden terug naar Noord-Irak: ziek, gebroken en ernstig getraumatiseerd.

Artikel geplaatst in MO* in december, 2015. Om het te lezen, open deze link: MO118-082_YEZIDIVROUWEN (2)

Articles Middle East, Iraq (Kurdistan) ,

After mass rape by the Islamic State, Yazidi women still struggle to break the silence

Written for Al-Monitor on September 9, 2015

DAHUK, Iraq — The first man Aniya was forced to marry was an Islamic State militant called Abu Safouan. She was 41 and he was 22, but still he bought her and her 3-year-old daughter at a slave market in Raqqa. After he had raped and abused Aniya for 20 days, he told her he was fed up with her and sold her to a 27-year-old man who called himself Abu Ali Sham.

“He used to rape me when my daughter was outside the room. She often screamed and cried, because she knew something was wrong, Continue reading

Articles Middle East, Iraq (Kurdistan), Syria

Kurdish fighters struggle to pay bills

Written for Al-Monitor on August 24, 2015

ERBIL, Iraq — When Hemin Zangana was sent to the front line in August 2014, he and his fellow peshmerga fighters were determined to recapture the Mosul Dam from the Islamic State. They told each other they would rather die during this important mission than accept the fact that IS was in full control after Kurdish forces partially retreated from the area. For several nights, Zangana wasn’t able to sleep properly.

“The peshmerga were weak, too weak. It was the hardest battle I had ever experienced. Yet we were convinced we had what it took to defeat IS,” he told Al-Monitor. Continue reading

Articles Middle East, Iraq (Kurdistan)

Iraqi children traumatized by IS violence

PHOTO: Brenda Stoter

PHOTO: Brenda Stoter

Written for Al-Monitor on August 16, 2015

ERBIL, Iraq — Mohammed was 5 years old when August 16, 2015his little brother was shot dead before his eyes. This happened in June 2014 when Islamic State (IS) militants stormed the city of Mosul and took over large parts of northern Iraq.

“IS terrorists shot my child because I was a soldier in the Iraqi army,” Mohammed’s father, a skinny man with deep lines in his face Continue reading

Articles Middle East, Iraq (Kurdistan), Syria

Terrorists turn month of peace into time for war

Written for Al-Monitor on July 14, 2015

For most Muslims around the world, the month of Ramadan marks a period of fasting, abstinence and contemplation. Besides a month for spirituality and reflection, Ramadan is also a month in which extra attention is paid to tolerance, generosity, charity and solidarity.

For some, however, the concept of “holy month” also carries a more violent meaning. Extremist groups such as the Islamic State (IS)— but also groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda — perceive Ramadan to be a month of jihad and martyrdom, Continue reading

Articles Middle East, Iraq (Kurdistan), Syria

Deel 1: Vrouwen in het kalifaat ‘Mama, ik ga’

Geschreven voor De Groene Amsterdammer (november 2014)

Naar schatting 35 tot 50 jonge Nederlandse vrouwen zijn vertrokken naar het kalifaat van Islamitische Staat. Moeder Monique vond vorige week dochter Aïcha terug aan de Turks-Syrische grens. ‘Ik had niet verwacht dat ze nog zou leven.’ 

MONIQUE LEEFDE maanden op sigaretten en koffie. Slapen lukte amper, hooguit een paar uur per nacht. En als ze eenmaal sliep, hoorde ze haar roepen: ‘Mama, doe eens open.’ Maar haar negentienjarige dochter Aïcha (de naam die ze na haar bekering aannam) stond nooit voor de deur. Die woonde in Raqqa of Al Bab, Syrische steden die overgenomen zijn door islamitische militanten. Tenminste, dat vermoedde Monique, want van de ene op de andere dag werd Aïcha’s telefoon niet meer beantwoord en bleven de dagelijkse updates op Facebook achterwege. Continue reading

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Radicalized Western mothers lead children into Islamic State

Written for Al-Monitor on April, 13, 2015

AMSTERDAM — For Aysha and Luca Opdam’s father, it is still hard to accept that his children, born and raised in the Netherlands, are now living in Syria. In a letter, he describes how his ex-wife radicalized after she devoted her life to Islam around six years ago. After it was made public that Aysha, 7, and Luca, 8, were taken by their mother to join the Islamic State (IS), the letter was published by a local newspaper.

“If my kids — if I ever get them again — become Muslims that would be fine by me. But only at an age when they are able to make their own choices with full awareness,” he wrote on March 22. Continue reading

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Grandmothers bear the brunt of Syrian orphan crisis

Written for Al-Monitor on March, 20, 2015

ZAATARI, Jordan — It has been years since Da’ed and her family fled Syria, but when her granddaughter asks where her mother and father are, the 60-year-old woman cannot find the right words to explain. In fact, Najoua, 4, still doesn’t know that her parents were killed by regime airstrikes in Daraa province two years ago. In total, 140 people were killed that day, including Najoua’s father and her pregnant mother.

For a brief second, Da’ed pauses, looks at her granddaughter and puts her hand on her chest. “My heart aches when I think of all the people I know who have died,” Continue reading

Articles Middle East, Jordan

Financial burden, risk of violence pressure Syrian girls to marry

Written for Al-Monitor on March, 17, 2015

MAFRAQ, Jordan — Her first husband was a 46-year-old man from Saudi Arabia who already had two wives. Once every few months, he traveled to Jordan for business, and during these visits he would talk to Fatima’s aunt about marrying another woman. Her aunt told him she had a suitable candidate in mind: her young niece. Initially, the girl’s father didn’t want his daughter to get married at such a young age, but when he found out that the Saudi man was wealthy and religious, he changed his mind.

It wasn’t really up to the bride-to-be to decide whether she wanted to marry this man. As the eldest daughter still living with her parents, she felt like a burden to them. The family had fled Homs to Jordan in 2013 because of the Syrian war, Continue reading

Articles Middle East, Jordan

Iraqi Christians find safe haven in Jordan’s churches

Written for Al-Monitor on March, 20, 2015

AMMAN, Jordan — His teenage daughter being married to an Islamic State (IS) fighter, his wife being forced to convert to Islam and his sons being trained by militants in the Islamic State’s children’s training camps.

“We got a call that ‘Daesh’ (the Arabic acronym for IS) was coming. In just a few hours, all Christians in our village decided to flee. People even forgot to take their passports. It was a huge mess,’’ Nadjm, 43, recalls. He and his family members stayed in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) region in northern Iraq for a few months. Continue reading

Articles Middle East, Jordan

‘Christenen zijn nergens meer veilig’

Geschreven voor De Tijd op 10 maart, 2015

AMMAN- Door de opmars van Islamitische Staat vluchten christenen massaal uit Irak. In de Jordaanse hoofdstad Amman worden ze in kerken opgevangen, maar ook daar willen ze weg. ‘Er is geen plek meer voor ons in het Midden-Oosten.’

Zijn tienerdochter die moet trouwen met een IS-strijder, zijn vrouw die gedwongen wordt zich te bekeren tot de islam of zijn zoons die in de beruchte kindertrainingskampen terechtkomen. Het zijn slechts enkele beelden die door Najms hoofd schoten toen hij in augustus in een sneltreinvaart vanuit de omgeving van Mosul naar Noord-Irak reed. Kleding, foto’s en andere persoonlijke bezittingen werden Continue reading
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Islamic State’s female bloggers draw European women to Syria

Written for Al Monitor on December 23, 2014

AMSTERDAM — When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in June, he called on Muslims around the world to be a part of it. The invitation extended to preachers, engineers, judges, doctors and people with military and administrative experience, basically every Muslim who wanted to play a role in the creation of a new Islamic caliphate, including women.

Initially it was widely believed that young women who were lured to Syria by the Islamists had gone there to provide sexual services to members of the Islamic State (IS). It was later revealed, however, that the women who join IS primarily fulfill traditional roles, such as taking care of the household. Mary, the mother of Vanessa, a 19-year-old Dutch woman who joined IS in August, underlined that women generally have noncombatant roles. Continue reading

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Stories on boat refugees (Sicily)

Written for Het Parool

Written for De Tijd

Articles Middle East

European women convert, join IS

Written for Al Monitor on October 29, 2014

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Vanessa, 19, was always a rebellious and spontaneous teen. Someone who liked being the center of attention and didn’t let anybody tell her what to do. After she became a teenager, she was always hanging around “tough boys” from school. They made her feel protected and safe. And just like other teens, she had boyfriends: Some were really nice, but others treated her badly.

“And when she had a nice boyfriend, she started calling him constantly, testing his limits. On the one hand she denounced rules. Continue reading

Articles Middle East, European ISIS fighters, Iraq (Kurdistan), Syria