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Migrations and borders

In The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois articulated the “ever unasked question” routinely posed implicitly to Black Americans: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Today, in relation to the context we find ourselves in Athens, Greece, and the Eastern Mediterranean, we would like to suggest the above “ever unasked question” as a starting point for any research into mobility and against borders. In other words, we seek to explore the lived and bodily experience(s) of how, indeed, ‘does it feel to be a problem’ and to be ‘managed’ as such through detention, imprisonment, removal, relocation, evictions and extermination.

Hence, in ‘Mobility: Migration and Borders’ we take sides: with the people that refuse to be categorized and governed as such. We join their resistance against the order of things that is being imposed on them through the migration regime that seeks to create numbers out of mobile subjects and render them problems to be solved through ‘crisis management’.

At the same time, through our research at FAC, we seek to challenge the distance that is being deliberately produced, literally and discursively by state and supranational entities and by various efforts, between ‘citizens’, ‘migrants’, ‘tourists’, ‘refugees’, ‘volunteers’, ‘economic migrants’, by posing the question of ‘who counts as a migrant’? (We reflected collectively on this question in a workshop led by Bridget Anderson during the first ever Feminist No Borders Summer School in 2018). This is as much as an issue of space and an issue of time. That is, when, where, who and for how long does one count as a ‘migrant’? How do certain categories become reified as identities such as that of the ‘migrant’, the ‘refugee’, the ‘cultural mediator’, the ‘volunteer’, the ‘tourist’?

In the context of ‘borderland-Greece’ we encounter an explosion of such bordered categories through which people are separated from one another into distinct ‘camps’, also, literally, as the imposition of the hotspot system in Greece (and Italy) shows us.

The question, moreover, ‘who counts as a migrant’ provides us with a ground from where we can reflect on our own positionality; on the ethical and epistemological implications of  research on migration; on how we see the politics and practice of research as intersecting, and some of the tensions in that process (e.g. the research relation with specific people).

Whilst FAC research is physically based in Greece, it is important for us to establish connections with people working on migration in other contexts, in an effort towards de-essentialising Greece as a space of exception in relation to the refugee/migration situation, as if in other European countries the conditions are more welcoming and safer, and as if in non-European regions they are more hostile and more dangerous.

Drawing upon the activism of Black feminist theory as a “politics of location,” Suryia Nayak argues that “the location of ethics within research methodology and writing practices is constituted of what/who is allowed to survive or not which points to an inquiry about conditions of regulation” (2017: 206). In relation to Nayak’s argument, then, ‘who counts as a migrant’ is, indeed, a question of survival in which life and death are at stake. This means that we have no time to waste.

We write this, whilst right in front of us and around us we watch whole islands being turned into prisons and spaces of administrative torture; the construction of new closed detention centres on ‘hotspot’ islands; the imposition of a new asylum law that among other things violates one’s very right to apply for asylum in Greece; evictions of squats in Athens and other urban centres, and the transportation of people to isolated and segregated camps; evictions of recognised refugees from housing by the state and  UNHCR, the IOM leading people to ‘self-deportation’; incessant stop and search procedures through racial profiling on the islands and in urban centres; daily more deaths in the Mediterranean sea; an increased criminalization of solidarity and mobility; blood stains marking the ‘Balkan route’, through which only four years ago the ‘March of Hope’ took place.

Red stamps on people’s asylum applicant cards signifying that they do not have the ‘right to the ferry’, waiting for the stamps to become blue (ironically the colour of the sea that they are forbidden to cross), shows us how the hotspot inherits and reproduces the “problem of the colour-line” (Du Bois).

This is a call for so-called scholars of migration and borders (but not only) to unite instead of fighting over citations and ownership, expertise, authenticity, real and fake research, ‘being there’ and ‘gaining access’. We call upon social scientists, economists, lawyers, ethnographers, oral historians, artists, performers, philosophers, poets, to move beyond our disciplinary boundaries, to share our knowledges and collaborate, drawing on with existing important research and activism and to enhance it; in order to expose the lies that they feed us and to break down the multiple borders that have been erected to keep us apart within and outside of ‘research’.

Here are some of what we see as urgent areas to research and analyse and realities to de-normalize, and as such comprise our research agenda in this area. We seek collaborations to work on the following:

  • IOM’s ‘Assisted Voluntary Return Programs” in Greece, Pakistan, most countries in Africa, and other areas/regions. This could proceed through comparative or multi-sited/mobile ethnographic research.
  • The ‘eviction regime’ with a focus on the migrant squat evictions in Athens and Thessaloniki and the so-called ‘ESTIA exit’. That is, how, once granted asylum, refugees are being thrown out of the UNHCR’s ESTIA Program, which provides asylum applicants with accommodation and cash assistance. Again, this could be compared with other contexts and forms of how evictions are enacted across lines of citizenship.
  • The new Greek asylum law in comparative perspective with a global assault on asylum
  • The construction of new closed detention and ‘pre-removal’ centres on hotspot islands and on the mainland: strategies of resistance
  • Pushbacks along the Balkan route, at the land border with Turkey, and in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas
  • The economic boom that asylum seekers’ arrival has brought on the ‘hotspot islands’. Economists wanted!
  • The hotspot as a deportation mechanism in Greece and Italy. Comparison to off-shore detention, the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ exported by Australia.
  • The figure of the ‘tourist’ and now more recently that of the ‘volunteer’ as a gendered and racialised category in Greece. How do xenophobia, racism, and misogyny intersect?

Aila Spathopoulou
, Deanna Dadusc, and Camille Gendrot coordinate this research area.

Ongoing Projects in this Research Area:

COVID borders

Criminalisation of Facilitation

Feminist No Borders Summer School

BRIDGES: Building Inclusive Societies: Diversifying Knowledge and Tackling Discrimination through Civil Society Participation in Universities

Recent Publications:

Crisis goes viral: containment in the age of contagion in Greece by Anna Carastathis, Aila Spathopoulou, and Myrto Tsilimpounidi in K.P. Kallio et al. “Covid-19 discloses unequal geographies.” Fennia: International Journal of Geography 198(1-2): 2020, 1-16.

Turning the Gaze upon Power: Refusal as Research in/to and against the EU Border Regime by Aila Spathopoulou and Isabel Meier. discover society, 1 April 2020.

Reproducing Refugees: Photographia of a Crisis by Anna Carastathis and Myrto Tsilimpounidi. London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2020. Challenging Migration Studies Series, eds. Alana Lentin & Gavan Titley

Facing Crisis: Queer Representations against the Backdrop of Athens by Myrto Tsilimpounidi and Anna Carastathis. Queer and Trans Migrations: Dynamics of Illegalization, Detention, Deportation, eds. Karma Chávez, Eithne Luibheid & Julio Salgado. University of Illinois Press,  2020.

‘Vulnerable Refugees’ and ‘Voluntary Deportations’: Performing the Hotspot, Embodying its Violence by Aila Spathopoulou, Anna Carastathis and Myrto Tsilimpounidi. Geopolitics. Special Issue on Rethinking the Geopolitical Migrant Position, eds. Sutapa Chattopadhyay & Pierpaolo Mudu. Published online June 2020.

Hotspots of Resistance in a Bordered Reality by Aila Spathopoulou and Anna Carastathis. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space Journal. Special issue on Hotspots, eds. Antonis Vradis & Evie Papada. Published online March 2020