Editor's note: This film is no longer available online.

"We've got a lot of people in trouble in these terrible little boats, and those boats aren't going to last very long out there," says seaman Jon Castle, who is traversing the waters of the Mediterranean looking for people fleeing Africa and the Middle East to Europe.

He and other volunteers with Sea-Watch, a German non-profit, search for boats off the coast of Libya, picking up refugees, handing out life-jackets, providing medical attention, and rescuing those making the dangerous sea crossing.

Many they pick up are in critical condition, suffering from dehydration, heatstroke and other illnesses. Among them are pregnant women and children. Dead bodies are not uncommon.

Aisha, a woman from Ivory Coast, was fleeing desperate circumstances when she was picked up.

"Kidnappings, rape, human beings being sold. When I saw this in Libya I couldn't stand it. Then, someone told us about the sea crossing. And I knew there were two options: Life or death," she says.

So far, more than 1,000 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2019.

"The closer you get to the problem like a car crash or something, then it's not just a mass of people, then they're separating into individuals," says Jon.

"And then they've actually got different expressions on their faces. Then you have to start dealing with them as people. And then your heart starts operating more than your head. And your heart tells the truth when you listen to it."

Lifeboat bears witness to one of the world's greatest contemporary crises, documenting those risking everything to escape war and oppression for a better life.



By Skye Fitzgerald

Our primary goal in producing Lifeboat was to bring to an audience a story that would engender a deeper understanding of the plight of asylum seekers pursuing a humanitarian corridor across the Mediterranean.

Our point-of-view in the film is unique and intimate and achieved through embedding a two-person filmmaking team on a search-and-rescue operation 20 mi [32 km] off the coast of Libya.

The film is necessarily graphic. We show corpses washed up on the beaches of Tunisia and Libya as a narrative counterpoint to the life-saving work of our core subjects in the film. Though editorially it would have been easier to sanitise graphic content to make the footage more palatable, or likewise, include graphic imagery for gratuitous effect, we chose neither approach. Instead, we managed a tension between accuracy, truthfulness and allowing graphic images to live in situ, without making the film unwatchable.

We did this using one of our guiding principles: 'beautiful horror'. If, through careful lensing, thoughtful editing, and circumspect scoring, we can transform horrific imagery into a visually beautiful sequence - despite the inherent horror of the content - we can make an otherwise deeply unsettling scene palatable and allow the viewer to bear witness to events that they might otherwise turn away from.

We believe there is currently a moral failure playing out on the global stage surrounding displaced persons. An important component of this failure is a lack of empathy for asylum seekers. As long as those seeking a better life are demonised in the public sphere there will be no political will to enact the substantive, systemic reform necessary to ensure asylum seekers enjoy proper access to asylum-vetting based on humanitarian principles. In this vein, one of our primary aims was to build empathy for the plight of asylum seekers through powerful stories about what they endure on their journeys.

Particularly troubling in Lifeboat is the documented and lethal outcome of the European Union's leveraging of the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) to initiate search-and-rescue operations off the northern coast of Africa despite verifiable instances of the LCG allowing asylum seekers to drown at sea rather than intervene. It is in this moral vacuum, with right-wing politicians in Europe divesting themselves of any responsibility for deaths in the Mediterranean, that the place of the moving image in bearing witness and documenting the tragedy is paramount.

Lifeboat provides a unique insight into the plight of asylum seekers displaced by the horror of modern slavery in Libya, conflict in Syria and the often-desperate poverty encountered in sub-Saharan Africa. In a political environment increasingly hostile to immigrants and refugees, documenting the real-life plight of those fleeing war and oppression is more vital and important than ever.

Source: Al Jazeera