A boy from Chad behind bars: Is this justice?

Article first published on February 4, 2022

Ahmed, a young migrant from Chad whom the Italian state held responsible for the November 11, 2020 shipwreck, was sentenced to 6 years and 8 months in prison as well as a fine of 1,200,000 euros.

More than one year has passed since this tragic shipwreck, there were more deaths and more tragedies. Today, it seems difficult to remember this event and the words that have been said about it. But a year ago, this shipwreck was in the headlines because it also killed a six-month-old baby, Youssef from Guinea. The video with desperate cries of the surviving mother was published by the non-governmental organization Open Arms to slap the deaf Europe in the face with the voice of those who suffer from the catastrophic neglect of migrants fleeing Libya.

In the days that followed, strong accusations were made against Italian and European policies of not being interested in securing legal routes of entry nor rescuing people forced to cross the sea. Instead of funding rescue ships, Europe is confiscating them. Instead of rescuing people, it abandons them to death. Instead of welcoming them, it rejects them.

All of this was already known in November 2020, when far from the spotlight the Agrigento prosecutor’s office investigated a 21-year-old boy from Chad, instead of clarifying the institutional responsibility for yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean. After all, when a six-month-old child dies, there is huge outrage, and someone must be taken to court. And who, if not the “trafficker”, the scapegoat on whom Europe and Italy continue to shift their responsibility?

Ahmed was arrested on November 27, 2020, after leaving a “quarantine ship” in Trapani where he had been held with the other survivors. In addition to the multiple charges of aiding and abetting illegal immigration and death because of another crime, there is an additional charge: the crime of negligent shipwreck. The latter charge has punitive significance because the elements of the crime of negligent shipwreck are already challenged with the aggravating circumstance of aiding and abetting illegal immigration. This means that Ahmed is being punished twice for steering a boat with migrants, some of whom did not survive the shipwreck.

On February 2, 2022, the Court of Agrigento sentenced Ahmed to 6 years and 8 months of imprisonment, going even beyond the demands of the prosecution. Ahmed was held responsible for the unsafe journey, the shipwreck, and the death of those people, including little Youssef. For a 21-year-old boy, that is a lot of responsibilities – too many, considering how the drivers of the boats leaving Libya are selected and often forced to steer the boats under threats and torture from the traffickers.

There are too many responsibilities for one person considering that it was not a 21-year-old boy who made the dangerous sea voyage the only way to reach Europe; it was not a 21-year-old boy who gave up rescuing people in the Mediterranean and delegated the task to few NGOs, which are no less criminalized.

But none of this was considered important.

Italy has its culprit.


Boat Drivers Support Group

Arci Porco Rosso e Borderline Sicilia


Click here to download the report “From Sea to Prison”.

Translated from German by Marah Frech