Migrants at the Uneasy Borderland(s) of “Greece”: Routes”, “Transit” Points, and Unsteady Categories at and from the Shifting Geographies of the “Humanitarian” Regime Governing “Greece”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
WMB - Gannochy Seminar Room 3 (University of Glasgow)
Aila Spathopoulou , Department of Geography, Kings College University London
In this paper I discuss how the humanitarian regime is being imposed and resisted in the context of where I am right now (which politically might be constructed as “Greece,” the “Greek islands,” the “Aegean crossing,” the aqueous “Greek-Turkish border”, “southeastern Europe”, “the external border of Europe,” “the european periphery,” or the “eastern Mediterranean”. Focusing on a group of Pakistani migrants on their journey through “Greece”, I map out individual but also collective experiences of “Greece”, unsteady/shifting geographies, fragmented spaces and temporalities, in order to understand how their everyday life and struggles are configured within a space which has been conceptualized as a huge European “hotspot”. Drawing on ongoing conversations, ethnographic study, participant observation and discourse analysis, conducted in Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Athens, I explore the differences between the humanitarian industries on the islands, what I see as uneasy borderlands of the humanitarian regime governing not just the islands but “Greece” as a whole. Following Tsianos and Karakayalis’s (2010) suggestion to conceptualize the border no longer as a solid line but as highly differentiated ‘border zones’, I approach the “humanitarian border(s)” (Walters) as ‘distinct social’ and ‘local settings’. Secondly, I discern uneasy borderlands through the various identities that the migrants adopt as they map out their own trajectories throughout/within a “Greece” that is being described by governmental and academic alike as “a Greece that is burning”. Thus, I examine how certain categories (“refugee”, “asylum seeker”, “local”, “volunteer”) are reified, imposed, assumed and challenged.