Sea Watch's experiment simulates a flight across the Mediterranean


More than 2,200 refugees died in the Mediterranean last year, according to UN figures – drowned while trying to get to Europe by water. The year before, it even exceeded 3,000. The figures reveal the dimension of the disaster that has been taking place on the Mediterranean for years, yet they remain abstract, as numbers themselves are concerned. No matter how many refugees you meet in person, how many of them are portrayed in the media: The trauma of crossing at risk to life will probably always remain inaccessible to anyone who has not experienced it.

The sea rescue organization Sea-Watch has tried to put people from Germany into the situation of refugees in the Mediterranean with an experiment. With a lavishly designed action a ride in a boat was simulated under similar conditions as they are on a run. The video for the “Lifeboat Experiment” is available online with further information.

40 people simulate a flight across the Mediterranean

A dark room, the participants are makeshiftly fitted with life jackets and chased by a man with a scary command tone on a much too small boat. The waves make the dinghy swing, it is pitch-dark. The 40 people involved in the experiment are volunteers: students, students, a policeman, merchants. But in these moments, they experience what it means to be in a physical and nervous exceptional situation.

The “Lifeboat Experiment” was conceived with refugees who had to make these experiences under real conditions. It was realized by psychologist Michael Thiel and Oscar-nominated director Skye Fitzgerald. The change of perspective is the central aspect of the experiment, explains Thiel: “We can better understand the situation of a refugee when we see someone who is like us in his position.” The experiment shows what makes us human: the ability to To feel empathy. “

Seawatch wants to counteract dulling

It is exactly this empathy that is increasingly being lost in the countries that aspire to the refugees: in 2015, many refugees still welcomed refugees to stations and borders, but this popularity has now cleared. Right-wing populist parties win votes against migrants with sentiment.

And even with people who are actually close to the fate of the fugitives, there is a habituation effect: There is no shortage of shocking pictures, numbers and stories, but these are less and less likely to trigger recipients. Surveys show stunting – according to a poll commissioned by Sea-Watch, 85 percent of Germans are unaware of the extent of the refugee disaster.

Seven participants had to stop the experiment

The Lifeboat organization wants to create more understanding with the experiment. In fact, the mood in the documentary is oppressive, moving the reports of the participants. And yet, everything remains only as long as you remain on the good, safe side of the screen. Even for the participants in the experiment, the borderline experience has a net and a double bottom: the Mediterranean in this case is just a hall in Schleswig-Holstein, the waves are generated by machine.

Nevertheless, several participants broke down on the boat in tears, many were plagued by nausea, said Sea-Watch. Seven of them discontinued the experiment prematurely. But they only had to drop into the water and were then caught by rescue divers – then their safe life went on. For refugees that means death. Because, as it says in the end in the documentary: “What happens on the Mediterranean, is not an experiment.”


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