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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

The political sea

How blaming the rescuers in the Mediterranean became an essential part of Europe’s strategy to reduce migration

Perilous crossings

The major and minor Mediterranean migration routes from North Africa to Europe. Since the crackdown, many of them have been closed down, while fewer boats now make it to Lampedusa. Migrants are picked up instead by NGOs, European navies or the Libyan coastguard

It was the Ark Explorer’s low “freeboard,” the distance between the ship’s deck and the waterline, that saved the rusted, ageing trawler from the wrecker’s yard. The Ark’s low clearance had helped fishermen haul netfuls of cod and herring out of the freezing North Sea for half a century. It also looked about right for fishing refugees out of the Mediterranean.

In May 2016, the Dutch-flagged 158-tonner was bought by a collective of German political activists called Jugend Rettet (“Youth Rescue”), who wanted to save lives and protest Europe’s migration policies in the Central Mediterranean. Refitted and rechristened the Iuventa, the old trawler and its young crew went on to rescue more than 14,000 people over the following 14 months, taking most of them ashore in Italy.

Together with professional search and rescue operatives and doctors from charities such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the mounting death toll in the Mediterranean has drawn a new generation of activists away from anti-globalisation protests and on to the high seas. Among them was Julian Koeberer, a bearded, well-mannered film student from Frankfurt, who set off to shoot a film about refugees for a film school diploma and found himself drawn to volunteer on the Greek island of Lesbos in 2015.

The diploma remains unfinished. Koeberer and the rest of the Iuventa crew criss-crossed the Mediterranean for a year, earning a reputation as the hardest- charging, biggest risk-takers among the 13-boat flotilla operated by different NGOs. The Iuventa was renowned for radical politics and a willingness to load as many refugees as it could fit on deck.

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In Prospect's April issue: Four writers explain how our relationship with death has changed in as technological and medical advances have been made in recent years. Joanna Bourke explores how modern life is now able to live on through social media sites, Cathy Rentzenbrink explains how (referring to the case of her own brother) a “twilight zone,” in which someone is neither alive nor dead, has been created through medical advances. Michael Marmot argues that we are experiencing a change in regards to our life expectancy—over the course of a series of decades we have seen life expectancy increase, but what do recent decreases actually mean. Meanwhile, Philip Ball writes about his participation in an experiment to create a second brain from his own flesh. Elsewhere in the issues: Jane Kinninmont questions whether the Saudi Crown Price, Mohammed bin Salman, really knows what he’s doing, Daniel Howden charts how European attitudes to migrants might be changing and Jay Elwes asks: Does a Cornish mine hold the answer to questions about the UK’s green future?