September 2016, the month, the year, that 100 Eritreans came to live in Lent (Nijmegen-North). All aged between 18 and 22. Because of a housing shortage and because these young people could no longer live in an AZC or youth shelter, they moved to barracks.
Nijmegen-based photographer Olga Boh felt it was important to give these young people a face. This gave rise to her series, called Eritrea mon Amour. These portraits were exhibited for the first time, outside in the countryside of Nijmegen. The immense images hung on clotheslines, swaying in the wind. Similar to how refugees - proverbially - blow across national borders.
To actually help them integrate into Dutch society, she became a volunteer with the Dutch Refugee Council (Vluchtelingenwerk). Boh: 'These young people went to school, of course, but in addition to that, at one point a running group formed among them, led by Jeroen van Gisbergen (former cyclist, ed.). He observed that these boys had a high chance of becoming good runners because of their physical aptitude. He therefore made sure they could participate in various running competitions such as the Zevenheuvelenloop, for which they even received a sports initiative award as Talenteam of the Municipality of Nijmegen.'
Online photo series
For the online photo series, Boh visited their temporary living quarters. Over time, she saw their rooms change. Bare walls were papered with coloured wrapping paper and holy images, from their Eritrean Orthodox religious upbringing. 'I found it extraordinary to see these young people buying crucifixes and big posters of saints at flea markets and then hanging them on the wall. To still make it their own home in this way.'
Boh is still in contact with these young people. By now, they have found housing in Nijmegen, most of them have a job and are studying.
Check out the photos Boh shot for the online series below.
Eritrea mon Amour runs from 17 October to 30 January 2023 at the Amsterdam Law Hub. Be welcome to view the exhibition inside or outside.