Forensis documents widespread, systematic and shameful drift-backs practice

Since 2020, “drift-backs” have become routine practice. Vulnerable refugees are loaded onto life rafts with no engine and left to “drift” back toward Turkey. This practice is illegal and highly dangerous. Forensis published a year-long investigation into the practice in the form of a navigable, web-based map.

April 20, 2024

A phone is shown on which a picture of a person is displayed

A relative of a person who drowned, showing photos of the disappeared a few days after the incident. The survivors in the group were pushed back, and the six deaths were never registered by the Greek authorities © Forensic Architecture/Forensis, 2022

Project description

Forensis & Forensic Architecture

Since 2020, “drift-backs” have become routine practice in the Aegean Sea. Vulnerable refugees are loaded onto life rafts with no engine and left to “drift” back toward Turkey. This practice is not only illegal, but highly dangerous. In July 2022, Allianz Foundation grantee Forensis published the results of a year-long investigation into the practice in the form of a navigable, web-based map of the Aegean Sea. This interactive platform documents more than 1,000 human rights violations which risked the lives of 27,000 refugees and migrants, leading to dozens of deaths.

In pursuit of accountability for human rights violations, including “drift-backs”, Forensis engages with political and legal processes. But it also exhibits its work in galleries – drawing on the experience of its sister agency, Forensic Architecture – in over 200 exhibitions around the world. Moving flexibly and creatively between forums in this way evidences the shifting landscape in which civil society must operate, and, within it, a new role for art institutions.

“The Drift-Backs in the Aegean Sea platform is a monument to the lethal consequences of the EU’s border regime. In the face of implausible denials by the Greek and EU authorities, the platform establishes “drift-backs” as part of a widespread, systematic, and shameful practice of border violence.”
Stefanos Levidis, Project Coordinator, Forensis e.V.

Impacts of the platform Drift-Backs in the Aegean Sea

A blog contribution by Forensis

Since its publication in July, the interactive platform Drift-Backs in the Aegean Sea, developed by researchers from Allianz Foundation grantee Forensis e.V. and its London-based sister agency Forensic Architecture (FA), has laid the groundwork for far-reaching impacts across legal and political forums.

In its launch week, the politician and economist Yanis Varoufakis presented the platform’s findings to the Greek parliament and called for the government to account for its role in the seemingly systemic violation of rights that the platform revealed.

Forensis is proud to see its investigative work contribute to legal and political responses to state-sanctioned violence and human rights violations committed by agencies of the EU and of EU member states.

Members of the European Parliament from the Green Party sent the platform’s findings to the Executive Director of Frontex, the EU’s Border and Coast Guard Agency. Frontex, in response, committed in writing to investigate every case on the platform that involved the agency – numbering more than 100. In October 2022, following growing discontent about Frontex’s operations, to which the revelations on the “Drift-backs” platform have contributed, the European Parliament voted against releasing Frontex’s 2022 budget, placing significant pressure on the Agency.

The platform is currently being used to support multiple legal cases filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and related investigative work concerning rights violations in the context of migration. Forensis and its partners will separately submit their own reports to the ECtHR. Forensis has also been invited to contribute to a submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which will address alleged crimes against humanity committed by the Greek Coast Guard and Frontex.

One of the principles underlying Forensis’s work is that a strong challenge from civil society to such violations may require campaigners and investigators to work across a large variety of forums and to speak in many different voices. To that end, Forensis and its sister agency FA exhibit their work in cultural institutions and galleries around the world, as well as in legal and political venues. The Aegean Platform was on public display at the 8th Çanakkale Biennial in Turkey in 2022, and we expect more invitations to exhibit the work in 2023. 

Many red dots near the turkish coast on a digital map.
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