Who: Forensis ( Forensic Architecture  )

Where: Aegan region, Berlin, London, online

With:  Investigative Commons  

The proposed project will develop, produce, and exhibit findings from three independent but interrelated human rights investigations, each concerning rights violations, state violence and malpractice, and persecution suffered by refugees and migrants at the hands of the EU’s enduring and evolving border regime, including but not limited to the bloc’s south-eastern frontier and the Aegean Sea. The research will be undertaken in partnership with partners across the fields of contemporary investigative practice, arts and culture, human rights advocacy, and law.

Following the methodologies of ‘investigative aesthetics’ developed and disseminated to great effect by Forensic Architecture (FA) in the last decade, FORENSIS will deploy technological and technical research methods to generate new evidence in relation to grave human rights violations, and to mobilise that evidence not only in courts and legal processes, but through arts and cultural venues across Europe and around the world.

Together, the three projects will address key contemporary human rights issues: border regimes, denial of access to asylum, failure to rescue at sea, systematic criminalisation, and intentional exposure of vulnerable people to harm. The fact and nature of these ongoing violations continues to critically undermine the EU’s stated commitments to human rights; for FORENSIS and the network of civil society actors in which the agency is embedded, exposing and challenging this practice through innovative investigative techniques, advocacy, law, and cultural intervention is an urgent necessity.  

The findings of these projects will be shared through exhibitions and cultural events across Europe. The use of artistic and cultural spaces in this way is fundamental to the work of FORENSIS and its London-based sister agency Forensic Architecture. Arts and cultural spaces hold immense potential as sites for the pursuit of accountability, where claims concerning rights violations can be made, mediated, engaged with, and disseminated. FORENSIS aims not only to shine light on specific violations, but to invite critical and public engagement with the agency’s methodologies themselves; to demonstrate, through cultural forums, new technological and theoretical possibilities for civil society’s pursuit of accountability for state violence.

Events can be filtered by island, allowing visitors to examine a specific geographical area at a time. Here the filter is set to look specifically at drift-backs on and around the island of Lesvos. (© Forensic Architecture/Forensis, 2022)
Two photographs from different sources (left: AlarmPhone, right: Turkish Coast Guard) capturing the same drift-back event, south of Lesvos island, on 9 August 2020. (© Forensic Architecture/Forensis, 2022)

new investigation by Forensic Architecture/Forensis into ‘drift-backs’—illegal at-sea expulsions of asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea—verifies and maps over 1,000 cases involving the expulsion of 27,464 people, evidencing the systematic and widespread nature of the practice and demonstrating the culpability of specific vessels of the Hellenic Coast Guard and FRONTEX, the European Coast Guard Agency.

For more than a decade, migrants and refugees making the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece have suffered egregious and well-documented violence at the EU’s southeastern frontier, including forced detention, arbitrary arrest, beatings and non-assistance.

Since March 2020, a new method of violent and illegal deterrence has been practiced. Migrants and refugees crossing the Aegean Sea describe being intercepted within Greek territorial waters, or arrested after they arrive on Greek shores, beaten, stripped of their possessions, and then forcefully loaded onto life rafts with no engine and left to drift back to the Turkish coast.

‘Drift-backs’, as the practice of abandoning asylum seekers at sea has come to be called by some, have become routine occurrences throughout the Aegean, often resulting in injuries and drownings. Today, the scale and severity of the practice continues to increase, with ‘drift-backs’ reported from the coast of the Greek mainland, and as far south as Crete.

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About FORENSIS

FORENSIS is the latest venture by Forensic Architecture (FA), the pioneering investigative agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London. FORENSIS is a timely response to the upheaval of the ‘post-truth’ era, in which facts have become battlefields. As in independent NGO, FORENSIS will carry the decisive techniques developed by FA into new forums and struggles, constituting the next stage in an intellectual and cultural development that has already defined new fields of academia and journalism, made indelible contributions to the arts, humanities, and social sciences, and won both historic court cases and major arts prizes through bold experimentation with new possibilities for human rights.

FORENSIS will sit at the heart of the INVESTIGATIVE COMMONS, a community of practice involving actors from journalism, the arts, academia, activism and the law, to propose new collaborative processes for knowledge-production, advocacy, and the pursuit of accountability for human rights violations.