The Secretive Prisons that Keep Migrants Out of Europe

“Get Away from the Target”—Rescuing Migrants from the Libyan Coast Guard

By Ed Ou & The Outlaw Ocean Project

“There is nothing more difficult than feeling lost and astray in the middle of nowhere.” Those were the words of the captain of a Doctors Without Borders rescue ship on the Mediterranean last spring. The boat, with videographer Ed Ou of The Outlaw Ocean Project aboard, spent three weeks looking to save the lives of migrants crossing the sea from Africa to Europe, from misery to maybe the miracle of job, a bed, a meal. Finding the migrants wasn't hard. Rescuing them before they were captured by the Libyan Coast Guard was deeply challenging. The Libyans had guns and faster boats, and, it turned out, a sense of mission that traced itself to the immigration policies of the European Union.

The EU has for years partnered with Libya to solve its migrant crisis by giving the Libyan Coast Guard the task of capturing the desperate before they reach European shores. Ou, with a blend of daring and grace, documented the daily contest—the threats from the Coast Guard, the urgency to get rafts and lifejackets to those stranded, the fear that colored every lost moment—for those whom the Coast Guard could catch first would be returned to the notorious gulag of migrant jails in Libya.