Nobody missed anyone. That is what agent Palu Eriksen finds most remarkable so many months later. He had just become a father to his first child when he received a call from a colleague last fall about a macabre find in the Ilulissat landfill. He had to come to the office immediately, parental leave or not. Municipal workers had found a human leg among the garbage bags at the incinerator that morning. “I couldn’t believe it,” Eriksen said at the Ilulissat police station. “Was it someone you know? Was it family? A friend perhaps?” Icebergs in every imaginable shape float by behind the window. Cathedrals of ice. Here in Ilulissat , a town of 4,670 inhabitants in western Greenland, people know each other. Ilulissat means iceberg in Kalaallisut, the language of West Greenland. The city is located 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. A city of blue, green and red houses on the edge of the ice sea. A Danish merchant initially named the trading post Jakobshaven in 1741. The ice fjord near the city, a product of the Jakobshaven glacier, produces 35 billion tons of ice every year. One of those icebergs sank the Titanic in 1912. In a city that lives with the seasons and the capriciousness of nature, people look after each other. Nobody ever gets lost here. If you spend a week in Ilulissat, you will recognize the residents. Hendrik, the fisherman who takes tourists on a seal hunt for 200 euros per hour. Jens, the former judge who is also a sculptor and fisherman and who was injured by a coconut last year in Mauritius. Agent Palu Eriksen comes from a police family. He knows the dark side of living on the pole like no other. “Most of the calls we receive are about domestic violence, sexual abuse and depression. We get someone on the phone about three times a day who is contemplating suicide,” Eriksen says as he takes me on his daily round. Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world, eight times as many as in the Netherlands. carcasses Autumn has started. Thick fog rolls over the city. Sled dogs howl in the mud. Their furs suck in drizzle. Eriksen points out the houses known as ‘the ghetto’ among his colleagues. The social housing in all colors of the rainbow was built as shelter for miners in a now closed coal mine. Reindeer carcasses hang to dry in the gardens. A woman puts a large bottle of beer to her mouth. It’s eleven o’clock in the morning. Only the high chimney of the incinerator disturbs the view of the icebergs drifting past in the distance. Eriksen and his colleagues opened the garbage bags one by one, hoping to learn more about the murder. After a day of searching, they found a head and identified the victim. “My colleague eventually recognized him. An Inuit who had lived in Denmark for a while and could not find a home when he returned to Greenland. He usually stayed with friends.” After the discovery of the leg, Ilulissat is buzzing with rumours. The killer must be nearby. Residents no longer dare to walk the streets alone at night. As the days get shorter, the residents decide to stay home after nightfall or stop walking alone. If the name of the victim becomes known, everyone can immediately see with their own eyes who the main suspect is. On his public Facebook page, the victim took a selfie of himself and another man on the day of his disappearance, who is holding a bread knife under his chin. How did the victim manage to capture his killer and the murder weapon just before his death? Agent Eriksen has the beginning of a statement, which implies that there was some kind of macabre pact: “There was a lot of alcohol and drugs involved.” The dump where the police found the leg is in an area where most of the calls to Ilulissat’s office come from. Fights, parties that got out of hand, beat up women. Most of the violence comes from men who take their frustration out on their wives. “Greenlandic men are in a deep identity crisis. Just like the Inuit in Canada and the United States,” says Eriksen, an Inuit himself. “Atrocious murders like this are happening with increasing frequency. I’ve explored more of them in the past five years than my father had in his entire career.” According to him, the change in climate and living habits are part of the explanation. Hardly anywhere in the world are the consequences of the climate crisis felt as strongly as here. The Jakobshaven Glacier shrunk faster in the first fifteen years of this century than in the entire century before. Since the 1990s, the rate at which ice is pushed into the sea has tripled, New York University climatologists have calculated, who predict that the glacier’s retreat will become unstoppable. It influences the existence on the island, the mood among the people, how they live and die. Left: Frederik Lange feeds his sled dogs fresh fish. Right: view from Oqaatsut, 14 kilometers north of Ilulissat. Photo Bram Vermeulen Photos Bram Vermeulen Disappearing world 80 percent of Greenland, an island 52 times the size of the Netherlands, is covered in ice. The only habitation is on the ice-free edges, especially in the west and south – where the capital Nuuk is located. In the center of the island, the ice sheet is more than 2 kilometers thick. If all that ice melted today, the water in the world’s seas would be 7 meters higher. As it stands, the melting ice in Greenland is causing a sea level rise of 1 millimeter per year. Until the late 1990s, the water between Ilulissat and Disko Island, thirty miles away, was frozen in the winter months. The city was inaccessible to ships and the inhabitants survived thanks to the reindeer and seal meat from the summer hunt. “This was all ice,” says Frederik Lange (80), an Inuit who brings large lumps of reindeer meat ashore in the port of Ilulissat with his three sons. “Until 1995, I used to dog sled across this body of water every year to hunt and fish.” He was raised by his uncle after his father drowned in a capsized kayak. Lange was two years old at the time. In 1967, his sled dogs rescued him from a hole, where they had run into him despite his warning cries. “As I lay in the icy water, I felt I was going to give up. I thought about my mother. But then the dogs found a place where two ice floes were superimposed, allowing them to pull me out. I have always been grateful to them.” The number of sled dogs in Greenland has halved in the past twenty years. The city council decided to ban the remaining dogs to the outskirts of the city, after complaints about noise pollution. More and more Greenlanders are purchasing snowmobiles because the dogs are too expensive to maintain. The dogs also fell victim to the modernization drive of Denmark, which in 1953 placed the Greenland colony as a district under direct administration. “They thought we should become more Danish,” says Lange. He and his family had to leave the countryside and move to cities like Ilulissat. “Everyone in the village was sad about that. The youth suddenly had nothing more to do.” Frederik Lange lost one of his eight children twenty years ago. Suicide, the police said. He and his wife refuse to believe that. “The rifle we found showed no traces of blood. But we had no time and no money for further research.” Frederik Lange feeds his sled dogs fresh fish. He still has 37. Photo Bram Vermeulen second-rate According to Aleqa Hammond, the first female prime minister of Greenland, the high number of murders and suicides in Greenland cannot be separated from that colonial history. “It certainly has to do with the fact that Greenlanders are treated as second-class citizens by the Danes. Their self-esteem is damaged,” she says during a visit to Ilulissat. Hammond is Inuit. She was raised by her mother, her father drowned in an accident on the ice sea. “My mother was a cleaner for Danish families. That was the only way for that generation of Inuit women to make money.” Hammond was elected prime minister in 2013, on the basis of her outspoken pro-independence agenda. She compared Danish colonization with apartheid in South Africa and wanted to set up a truth commission. The Danes refused to cooperate. “Denmark forced Greenlanders to use contraception in the 1960s and 1970s so that the population would not grow. We were forced to leave our homes in the fjords and move to the cities so that it was easier to control ourselves. The Danes have destroyed a lot.” Hammond resigned as prime minister in 2014 after allegations of corruption. But she made Greenland’s quest for independence salvage. 90 percent of the companies on the island are still controlled by Danes. In 2008 the Greenlanders already voted in a large majority for self-government in a referendum. Denmark is now solely responsible for Defense and Foreign Affairs and pays 500 million euros a year to the island. A law states that independence is possible, provided the Greenlanders feel they are ready for it. “I think it’s too early,” said Palle Jerimiassen, the mayor of Ilulissat. “We have to be able to stand on our own two feet first.” He points in the direction of an overhanging rock outside the city, known as the Suicide Rock. From there, women plunged into the ice sea for centuries after their husbands died, and as widows they feared becoming a burden to the rest of the family. Old men got into their kayaks never to return. “That’s how we’ve been solving our problems here for generations.” Also read: This report of a polar expedition near Spitsbergen Cruise ships The mayor had to reassure his city after the discovery of the leg at the end of last year. The next day 150 townspeople with candles in their hands stood in front of the town hall to commemorate the victim. “It’s very sad, but we have to keep thinking positive,” he says. His city has never been so busy. Hotels cannot handle the influx of tourists. In 2021 there were 50,000 tourists, ten times the population. Last August, he called for limiting the number of cruise ships to a maximum of one per day, with a maximum of 1,000 tourists. “We can’t handle more,” said the mayor. But Ilulissat’s growth is unstoppable. “We work here 24 hours a day. Even our fishermen are now building hotels,” says Jerimiassen. According to him, this popularity is caused by the media, which constantly mention Greenland in the same breath as climate change, but also by the Netflix series Borgen , whose fourth season is set here, and by Donald Trump, who wanted to buy the island. Behind the old airport of Ilulissat, with one gate, a Danish company is busy clearing rubble for an international airport, which should be ready in 2025. “Soon you will be able to fly directly from Amsterdam to Ilulissat,” laughs the mayor. “Climate change is not all negative. It is also a business opportunity .” The melting ice in Greenland has now sparked the interest of billionaires like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. They believe that the earth’s metals are easier to dig up now that the winters in Greenland are getting shorter. Nickel and cobalt were found on Disko Island, the most important raw materials for the batteries of electric cars. “Greenland is the last frontier ,” says Canadian Benjamin Walters, who is active on Disko Island for various mining companies. All summer he flew wealthy businessmen to and from the island by helicopter. Plans to mine uranium in Narsaq further south have been met with resistance. There are concerns about public health and there are fears that China could start mining uranium. Most Greenlanders do support other mining operations, in the hope that the money can accelerate independence. “Greenland is a treasure island,” says Walters. last hours Not all Greenlanders can keep up with the major changes on the island. So did the homeless Inuit who was murdered. After the main suspect was arrested, the police learned about the victim’s last hours. “Those two knew each other,” says Detective Eriksen. “Recently, crimes under the influence of large amounts of alcohol and drugs have become more and more heinous.” According to him, these crimes all have the same background: Greenlanders feel powerless in a changing, crumbling world and develop serious mental problems. The main suspect has been transferred to Nuuk, where there has been a prison for this type of crime since 2018. In the past, serious criminals were sent to Denmark. According to former Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond, the murder case proves that “the Greenlanders get too little attention”. The focus of the world – politicians, scientists, miners and tourists – is only on the melting ice, she says. This kind of killing, she says, is a symptom of a greater sense of loss. Agent Palu Eriksen believes that the grief of generations can melt, just like the ice. “If we accept our own history and forgive the others, we can move on.” Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Titanic sank in 1909. However, that must be 1912 and has therefore been adjusted. Thursday, October 27 at 8:25 PM a new broadcast of the VPRO program Frontline : De ijsmoord can be seen on NPO2. Photo Bram Vermeulen A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 22, 2022