2023 World Press Photo Contest award in the "Europe, Open Format" category

28-30 September, 9AM-10PM EET

Every year thousands of people try to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the African coast to Europe. In the summer of 2016, César Dezfuli spends three weeks on board the Iuventa, a former fishing boat operated by the German NGO Jugend Rettet, where he witnesses the rescue vessel assist people risking their lives on the central Mediterranean migration route, the overseas crossing from Libya to Italy.

On August 1st, 118 people were rescued from a rubber dinghy drifting 20 nautical miles off the coast of Libya. Dezfuli photographs all the passengers on the boat minutes after their rescue, in an attempt to attach names and faces to this reality, to humanise this tragedy. Shortly afterwards, the migrants disembark in Italy, in the Sicilian port of Pozzalo.

The desire to document the reality of migration, to reclaim identities that remain invisible behind the statistics, leads Dezfuli to a second stage: the stories of the protagonists of the project must be told. He undertakes a search for the 118 passengers to find out why they left their countries, what they experienced on the migration route, and how they continued their lives after being rescued at sea.

We find migrations due to political, economic or sentimental issues; people dragged by the inertia of migratory routes, escaping family conflicts, or driven by the simple and human ambition to travel. Both meditated and improvised choices. Through their steps, we trace the paths from different African countries to Libya, and the human rights violations committed there.

Their testimonies also reveal the reality they face in Europe. They show, among other aspects, how slow governments are in responding to asylum requests. This inertia slows down integration into society, as applicants are forced to wait passively, often for several years. Silence and the rejection of asylum applications force them to keep on moving within the European continent.

In "Passengers", Dezfuli documents these people’s stories in order to build empathy and understanding, and to create a documentary corpus to serve as a reference and help prevent the plight of migrants from being forgotten.