Remembering Lampedusa is a collaborative film and research project that takes the challenge to listen to the survivors and the family members of the victims. It is a work of listening to the memories that live on in Copenhagen, Hannover, and small towns in Sweden where the survivors now live.

With the survivors and Lampedusan civil rescuers a team of scholars, filmmakers, and refugee activists have created five short documentary films. Each film is based on a main character’s story of the disaster and their survival. The series of five films shows how each person’s emotional experience and memory is unique.

These films offer an alternative critical perspective to death at Europe’s borders. Instead of fatality metrics, numbers, and images of anonymous masses of people, the attention is on individual persons: their memories, emotions, and thoughts.

These films have been created in a radically inclusive way with co-director Adal Neguse who lost his brother in the tragic event at the Mediterranean. This loss prompted him to want to create documentary films. He was compelled to interview the survivors because he wanted to know exactly what happened on the boat that night. The survivors also have a deep emotional need to tell him what they witnessed.

Remembering Lampedusa is a film project that includes the survivors of the disaster in the creative process and is made in constant dialogue with them. This participatory way of film directing has required time, patience and listening from everyone. It has demanded openness and sometimes challenging communication between all parties.

Our ambition is to create films together that awakes emotion, have strong drama, visual beauty and will work for audiences all over the world. We believe this is possible through respectful communication and esteem for each others’ cultural and aesthetic preferences, and searching for a transcultural artistic integrity. Both director’s unique background, worldview, knowledge and skills have been necessary to make this film.

The interview, which at times becomes a self-narrated testimony, is the backbone of the film’s structure. This would not have been possible without co-director Neguse’s personal experiences and relationship with the main characters. The survivors are talking with him because they share a horrible wound, and by talking about it they find ways to live with it. Director Blom’s knowledge has been crucial in creating a storyline that has a strong drive forward and gives an emotionally deep viewing experience.

The theme for the films is the disaster in the Mediterranean Sea and what it means for the survivors. The theme is important for those who have experienced it, but it is also important for the European audience whose governments are creating a situation where these tragedies continue to happen. It is also a key event remembered by the Eritrean diaspora. The survivors and many European viewers carry a collective feeling of guilt because of what is happening and one way of dealing with this feeling is to create stories about it.

As Bisrat says in the interview in reference to the 368 who died in the disaster::
”As long as we are living in this world, in order not to forget, we work hard to make something in their name.”

While making these films we have gathered together numerous times, shared stories and emotions, and by doing that we have created not only our unique way of making films but also a unique memory together. The films are our contribution to the Swedish, Nordic, and European cultural archive, and one day, future generations may study these in order to understand us and our present society. The films are also important in our own lives. We are living in this world together, it is important to see and listen to each other on a deep and genuine level. This happens in the creative process around the films and we also hope that it will happen when we share the films with audiences.

the trailer

the films


At the night of the disaster Adal Neguse, an Eritrean-Swedish health care worker and human rights advocate, turned on the news and learned that a ship carrying refugees from Libya had sunk outside Lampedusa. Adal was afraid that his brother would be on board. He flew to Lampedusa and found out that his brother did not survive. Four times Adal has returned to Lampedusa to commemorate his brother’s death on the 3 October. He needed to know everything he could about the disaster and he wants to raise awareness about the rights of refugees by remembering those who die at Europe’s borders.

Runtime 11 min. 15 sek.
Language: swedish, english
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color


”I feel like electric shocks go through my body when I think about that moment”, Solomon Ghebrihiwet says when he describes to Adal what he felt when the ship capsized and he lost his grip of a small child he had in his arms. ”We were like ants in boiling water”, he continues. Lampedusan ice cream maker Vito Fiorino chanced on the disaster site hours after on his overnight fishing trip. Solomon was one of the 47 people he rescued to his boat. Four years after the disaster Vito travels to Sweden where Solomon lives today.

Runtime 14 min. 16 sek.
Language: tigrinya, italian
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color


Only six women survived the disaster. Bisrat Tewelde is one of them. Bisrat says she is not a good swimmer, and she doesn’t know how she managed to survive. She can’t remember the moment she was rescued. In the disaster she lost family and friends who had travelled with her all the way from Eritrea and survived a kidnapping on route. Now Bisrat has created a new home in Sweden where she lives with her partner and young daughter.

Runtime 10 min. 16 sek.
Language: tigrinya
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color


Adhanom Rezene feels deep connection and gratitude towards the Lampedusan civil rescuers who discovered the disaster and started saving people. ”The Lampedusans gathered us in the church, they gave us clothes and money so we could call our families, they were as shocked as we were”. Costantino Baratta was one of the civil rescuers. He and his wife Rosa Maria stay in touch with Adhanom and other survivors through social media. Adhanom works in Sweden, taking care of elderly people. He sends money to his ageing parents in Eritrea. ”But money can never be the same thing as being near them”.

Runtime 11 min. 16 sek.
Language: tigrinya, italian
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color


KB was only 13 when he survived the disaster. When he is 17 years old KB returns to Lampedusa and explores debris discarded by migrants in one of the boat cemeteries on the island. He finds water bottles which remind him of the journey and his rescue. ”I found an empty water bottle in the sea, I held on to it”. KB plays the krar, an instrument common in Eritrea. His dream is that he could return to Eritrea and live in peace and freedom at home near his parents.

Runtime 8 min. 12 sec.
Language: tigrinya
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color

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the team

Anna Blom: Award winning director/writer based in Helsinki, Finland. She has created critically acclaimed documentaries, tv-programs and feature stories for the Finnish public broadcaster YLE. Anna takes a special interest in issues concerning human rights, children and youth.

Karina Horsti: Dr. Karina Horsti is a media and migration scholar, writer and critic who has worked on the issue of refugees and cultural representations for 18 years. She’s based at Cultural Policy, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

Adal Neguse: Eritrean-Swedish human rights activist and health care specialist based in Stockholm. He has worked closely with Dr. Karina Horsti as an expert on research on memory and deaths at Europe’s border. Adal’s documentary drawings testified about torture in Eritrea in the Amnesty International report against torture in 2004.

Ilaria Tucci:  theatre practitioner, she uses theatre as a tool of dialogue among people, participation, peacebuilding and empowerment. She is a PhD Candidate in the University of Tampere, at the Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI). Her research focuses on a community-based theatre experience she facilitated in Lampedusa with local activists.

the research

Afterlife of a disaster at Europe’s borders

Research project by Karina Horsti

The deaths of those who cross the borders of Europe without documents are a significant human disaster of the present. Particularly after the 3 October 2013 shipwreck in Lampedusa and the 2015 “refugee reception crisis” in Europe, border deaths are no longer hidden from the public view. The media routinely reports quantified statistics of deaths at the border. Dying has became a normalized feature of the bordering of Europe: simultaneously, an uncomfortable and spectacularized, and an inevitable but resisted feature of what Europe has become.

In this project we confront this normalization by pausing at one disaster of the many at Europe’s fatal borders. However, the 3 October 2013 disaster cannot be generalized, in fact, in many ways it was like no other. Images of hundreds of body bags arranged in rows in Lampedusa represented the magnitude of the disaster: it was the deadliest shipwreck in Italian waters since World War II. For at least a decade, human rights activists had been trying to raise awareness of the fact that the Mediterranean had become a watery graveyard for thousands of victims since Europe began tightening its immigration, visa and border policies in the 1990s. But the fatalities had remained largely invisible in the public domain – until the Lampedusa disaster happened. In October 2013, a (short lived) political window for a more humanitarian approach to border control had opened in Italy. A new government, led by the Democratic Party’s Enrico Letta, had taken power in April and was willing to abandon the Berlusconi government’s harsh approach. In addition, under the Pope Francis leadership, the Catholic Church lobbied powerfully for refugees.

The research component of Remembering Lampedusa project develops a theoretical idea of an afterlife to examine the social and ethical responses to mass death at Europe’s borders. By focusing on the 3 October 2013 disaster the research project demonstrates how a disaster’s afterlife is constituted by its continuing and transforming presence in different domains from social relationships to cultural productions, memorialization and politics. A disaster does not end with the burial of the victims but it continues to live on, and as life itself, the memory of the disaster transforms and travels across geographical and cultural boundaries.

The political in this research is its attention to the afterlife in a way that conveys that disasters at Europe’s borders leave traces and marks, and live on in the various ways that people engage with its memory. This research attends to the humanity of a disaster; that is, to the human consequences of the fatal border and to the moral engagement with the knowledge of the fatality of the border. Such approach provides an alternative mode of knowing about and engaging with border deaths. This research produces a critical optic to the fatal border as it makes visible the practices of attentiveness to border deaths and solidarity with those who suffered from the fatal border.

K. Horsti (2018) Miksi siirtolaisten kuolemat esitetään numeroina?

K. Horsti & A. Neguse (2018) Debris of the border: Seeing, and seeing with, objects discarded by migrants

K. Horsti & K. Neumann (2017) Memorializing mass deaths at the border: two cases from Canberra (Australia) and Lampedusa (Italy), (open access)

K. Horsti (2017) The mediated commemoration of migrant deaths at European Borders

K. Horsti (2018) Miksi siirtolaisten kuolemat esitetään numeroina?

Karina Horsti

Academy of Finland Research Fellow, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä
Docent, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki

with the support of