As demonstrated in our report Blaming the Rescuers, since the end of 2016, a growing campaign of de-legitimisation and criminalisation has systematically targeted non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in search and rescue in the Mediterranean. These organisations had courageously deployed their own rescue missions in a desperate attempt to fill the gap in search and rescue capabilities created by the EU and its member states’ decision to pull back from rescue at sea at the end of 2014.
In our report we analysed and countered the arguments used to fuel a “toxic narrative” against rescue NGOs which emanated from EU agencies such Frontex, and different institutional bodies in Italy. While this campaign had remained largely on a discursive level, over the summer of 2017 it quickly escalated with the Italian government’s attempt to impose a “code of conduct” on rescue NGOs. An intense standoff ensued as several NGOs, from larger organisations such as Doctors without Borders to smaller ones such as the German Jugend Rettet (‘Youth Rescue’), refused to sign it before the announced deadline of 31 July 2017, claiming that the code would have threatened their activities at sea with requests that a leading legal scholar had described as "nonsensical", "dishonest" and "illegal".
On 2 August 2017, only days after this deadline had passed, Jugend Rettet’s ship, the Iuventa, was seized by the Italian judiciary under suspicion of ‘assistance to illegal migration’ and collusion with smugglers during three different rescue operations. While no charges have been so far brought against the crew of the Iuventa nor against Jugend Rettet as an organisation, thus making it extremely difficult for them to respond to these accusations, the boat has remained under custody of the Italian police in the port of Trapani, Sicily.
The video presented here, part of an on-going work in progress, offers a counter-investigation of the authorities’ version of one of these episodes, a rescue operation that occurred in the early morning of 18 June 2017. An analysis of the other two episodes for which the Iuventa is being accused will be published in the coming weeks.
Project Team Forensic Oceanography: Charles Heller, Lorenzo Pezzani
Project Team Forensic Architecture: Nathan Su, Christina Varvia, Eyal Weizman, Grace Quah
Footage and stills by Jugend Rettet e.V. and Reuters
Realised with the support of Borderline Europe, the WatchTheMed platform and Transmediale
This video is currently exhibited at the Institute for Contemporary Art, London (UK), in the frame of "Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture", 7 Mar 2018- 6 May 2018.