The events that form the basis for this novel are, unfortunately, not a product of my imagination – although I have changed them so that their relationship to any actual events is only marginal. All the figures in the story are my creations, as are their names, and any similarity with real persons, living or dead, is unintended and coincidental.

On December 25, 1996, 283 refugees died as the result of a shipwreck south of Sicily. Despite very stormy seas, the crew of the "Yiohan" had forced the refugees at gunpoint to transfer to a small wooden boat, which capsized a short time later. Not even the underwater photographs of the remains of the boat 112 meters below the surface were able to definitively resolve the question of whether the wreck was an accident owing to the weather, or murder. The boat was heavily overloaded, and it had been rammed and broken apart. On board were Indians, Pakistanis and Indonesians. Those refugees who survived were rescued by a Greek freighter and brought to Nauplia (Náfplio) on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Even though the survivors reported the incident to the Greek authorities, even though the journalist John Hooper of the British newspaper The Observer researched the case and Discovery Channel broadcast a film on the events, even though the Roman senator Tana de Zulueta championed the cause of the survivors, the investigation against the captain and the owner of the Yiohan was discontinued since the event had taken place in international waters.

In recent years, the situation of refugees on the Mediterranean and the world’s oceans has worsened. The duty of every captain to come to the rescue and assistance of victims of shipwreck has been perverted. Yachting publications point out to skippers the dangers to which they expose themselves when they rescue victims of shipwreck in the Mediterranean: boat owners face the danger of losing their boats and those involved in rescue attempts risk being charged with human trafficking. One example is the unbelievable odyssey of the Cap Anamur in 2004 with 37 victims of shipwreck on board. Despite promises and assurances from the authorities, the refugees who were allowed to disembark in Sicily after a long tug-of-war were immediately illegally deported without hearings or court proceedings. Charges of human trafficking were filed in Sicily against Elias Birdel, the captain of the Cap Anamur and head of the humanitarian organization of the same name. Only after years of court proceedings was he finally acquitted in 2009.

Of the European countries bordering the Mediterranean, which have all been overrun by an unceasing stream of refugees, it is Italy, in particular the island Lampedusa, that most frequently figures in news reports. Italy has been uncompromising in dealing with its thousands of refugees: they have almost all been deported as soon as possible, without a hearing or asylum procedure. An agreement concluded with Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi that remained in force until the end of his rule even permitted Italy to return refugees who had been held in Libya under inhuman conditions in detention camps and prisons, in some cases tortured and in individual cases abandoned in the desert. Not until 2012 was this practice sanctioned in a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, even though it violated both applicable Italian law and human rights.
European economic policy continues to promote the impoverishment of African countries. To name just one example: Western Africans are forbidden to fish in their own waters, since European fishing fleets have spent millions to purchase those fishing rights from Western Africa’s political leaders. So it is only logical that the fishing boats thus rendered useless for fishing are used for the transport of refugees – primarily, in the case of Western Africa, to the Cape Verde Islands.

Another example highlights the problems faced by Greece, which is often strongly criticized for its refugee policies. The island Mytilini (Lesbos) lies in the Aegean just a few nautical miles from the Turkish coast. In 2008 alone, more than 15,000 refugees from Asia and Africa arrived there. The island itself numbers just a little over 90,000 inhabitants.

The European Union believes it has found a solution in the form of the agency Frontex (European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union). But on what legal basis do Frontex's ships command boats overloaded with refugees to turn back to countries where torture and imprisonment are waiting for them, when those boats are in international waters? According to the Dublin Regulation, the European country where a refugee first arrives must care for that refugee and his or her application for asylum must be filed and investigated there. Yet given the great numbers of immigrants, the European countries bordering the Mediterranean can no longer keep up. They are still waiting for the help from the European Union that Italy's prime minister, Mario Monti, has demanded.

I chose Italy as the setting for this novel because of its great numbers of refugees. Only a few of them can apply for asylum. Most reside in Italy illegally, either underground, in relationships of sexual dependence or kept in a kind of semi-imprisonment. Others wait in camps to be deported – a practice that has currently been stopped. Today, these people form the most significant element of street scenes in cities and towns. The European Union has not yet succeeded in identifying suitable measures for supporting Mediterranean countries in dealing with their refugee streams.

For the purposes of the story I wanted to tell, I needed a cross-regional assistance organization that regarded itself as subject to the duty of humanity, not the service of mercantile laws. I decided to use a Christian order – in this case, the Carmelites. The organization needed to be one that had maintained a certain independence of thought and was allowed a certain neutrality with regard to local laws. In addition, a religious order offers the possibility of tapping an existing network within the community, not just to other places but institutions as well. And behind the convent's walls, my fictitious shipwreck survivors could remain in hiding more easily and receive the care they needed. I don’t know whether the Carmelites, a nursing order, even have a convent in southern Italy, but for me they were an image of helpfulness, determination and courageous commitment. Even so, the persons, events and places in this work are all fictitious.

Jutta Motz

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* translation: Mary Tannert



Elster Verlag
ISBN 978-3-906065-01-4
März 2013



Blood Find

What was planned as an educational holiday in Rome turns into the kind of adventure Jane couldn’t possibly have anticipated: her very first evening there, the Englishwoman and her friend Gioia, a lawyer, witness the murder of an African man.