Presence at Sea

For a welcoming and support network in the Central Mediterranean: a monitoring boat on Lampedusa

On land and now also at sea - Maldusa is a project to support the freedom of movement and to accompany, to investigate and to document: with a station in Palermo, with a second station on Lampedusa and soon with a speedboat around the island in the central Mediterranean.

Named "Maldusa", our small motorboat arrived in Lampedusa at the beginning of December and the crew is currently preparing the boat and has already started initial training. The purchase of the boat was largely co-financed by United4Rescue. The Maldusa boat should be ready for use in stand-by mode next year, adding another asset to the civil fleet in the central Mediterranean.

Because time and time again, we have to witness that when refugees and migrants are in distress at sea on their way to Lampedusa, the Maltese and Italian coastguards regularly fail to provide assistance, also organizing illegal push back to Libya. This is absolutely unacceptable.

With its presence at sea, Maldusa wants to try to intervene in such situations, to accompany "People on the Move" and amplify the visibility of the autonomy of migration.

If necessary, rescue operations will be carried out, but the primary aim is to support existing forms of self-organisation by the people on the boats and to urge the European coastguards to carry out their rescue duties.

Since September 2022, Maldusa has established a station for border-monitoring and to support people reaching Lampedusa after a sea crossing. A social centre was opened in Palermo in April 2023. The set-up of the two stations was supported by medico international and Pro Asyl.

The Mediterranean Sea is a contested space, inhabited by a variety of actors who struggle for and against freedom of movement. Every day, people who cross the sea, authorities who surveil and abandon them, NGOs who search and rescue, fishermen and merchant vessels crews, either attempt to defy borders or, willingly or not, reinforce them.
Most of what happens in the Mediterranean Sea is invisible to the most, except for authorities' aerial controls.

Picture by Border Forensics
Picture by Border Forensics

Not only multiple forms of violence and violations are kept invisible, but also the fate of too many people who departed from African shores and went missing will remain unknown.

Picture by Watch the Med - Alarm Phone
Picture by Watch the Med - Alarm Phone

Thanks to the efforts and courage of people who survive border violence as well as of civil society organisations, there are points of visibility of the systematic non-assistance by EU authorities as well as on illegitimate actions of the so-called coastguards of different countries - as Libya or Tunisia - who do not rescue people but illegally push them back to where they escaped from. This border externalization and control project, which also involves the direct supply and training of patrol boats and coastal personnel, is financed directly by the European Union and facilitated through Frontex operations.

Picture by Sea-Watch
Picture by Sea-Watch

At the centre of the attention there are not only acts of violence, including death at sea, capture by authorities, abandonment, but also acts of solidarity and rescue by the civil fleet.

This visibility is crucial for denouncing and eventually dismantelling the border regime. It is also necessary for contesting the opposite view that those who cross borders are dangerous people rather than people in danger.

But often this is not enough, as there is the risk of seeing people on the move only through the lenses of vulnerability, as powerless, at times lifeless, victims waiting to be saved, and whose fate (or: life and death) is in the hands of either European authorities or civil saviors.

People who cross borders do not start existing when they are in danger, when they are dying, when they need rescue or when they are being rescued. This victimisation fails to acknowledge people's capacity to act and to exist outside the white gaze of Europen actors, and can be as dehumanising as portraying people on the move as dangerous criminals.

These narratives also keep speaking the language of emergency and crisis that portray death at sea and human rights violations as accidental and exceptional. This depoliticises the systemic nature of border management violence, which is chosen and designed by authorities every single day. Little is know and said about the everyday practices of migrant-to-migrant solidarity, self-organised arrivals, and people's capacity to cross borders despite authorities' repression, but also autonomously from European rescue.

How to centre the autonomy of people who cross, transgress, and defy borders every day? How to bring a different imaginary and an alternative language that does not focus on victimhood and emergency?
Of course there is no right answer or straightforward solution to these questions.

One of the ways Maldusa will collaborate with other organisations and self-organised migrant groups to propose alternative imaginaries, also combining the presence at sea with the presence on land, on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea. This will help to place the act of crossings, the moment of distress, the arrival or rescue within a broader political framework, as well as to contextualise it within people's life histories and trajectories on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea and beyond.

With its presence at sea, Maldusa seeks to support people who might encounter difficulties in their journeys, and to facilitate their passage in face of authorities' attempts to obstruct their arrivals. Rescue will be deployed when needed, but the first aim is to support existing forms of self-organisation and solidarity among communities on the move at land and at sea. 

Moreover, Maldusa's presence at sea aims at intervening for changing the political context in which 'emergency' at sea takes place, putting pressure to mobilise authorities' rescue as well as denouncing violations and violences.
For doing so, Maldusa seeks to counter-map and counter-monitor what happens at the border by listening to those who experienced the crossing, by supporting them in telling their stories, amplifying their voices and their demands.

In doing so, Maldusa seeks to facilitate freedom of movement.