Bordering Europe: Resistance and Governance in Greek Refugee Camps

Margarita Lipatova’s research project addresses the exclusionary practices of mobility control exercised on the external borders of the European Union, specifically, Greece. Lipatova conducted 12 months of multi-sited fieldwork at three major points along the migration route in the region: Izmir in Aegean Turkey, a migrant transit hub; the Greek island Chios, a main place of arrival; and the Greek mainland, a site of transfer for those marked as “legitimate” asylum seekers. Her fieldwork started with the “hotspot” island, a legal in-between zone, where she examined how practices of bureaucratic registration and legal classification divided the arriving population into the categories of legitimate refugees, deportable migrants, and in-between status holders.

Building a network of research participants from the diverse group of asylum seekers on the island, she analysed the lived reality of those “governed” by bureaucracy and examined the workings of other administrative, humanitarian, and military agencies in their attempts to control the population of arriving people. Since 2017, migration and border management in Greece is in the process of transitioning from “emergency” or “crisis” management carried out by numerous international non-governmental organizations to a fully government-run response. Ethnographic data demonstrated that the effects of this transition include confusion about the responsibility of actors in the field, continuously deteriorating conditions of accommodation infrastructure, and an increasingly growing backlog of asylum cases. While some of the bureaucrats working in the field explained the poor conditions of the border infrastructure as a strategy to avoid “creating a pull factor”, for the people entering the regime of European border governance, the situation produced feelings of uncertainty and being neglected and “stuck”. The resentment, anger, and indignation experienced by many people on the move has led to new types of engagement and mobilization against the disciplining practices at the European border.

Using the methods of long-term ethnography, Lipatova followed individual cases of people who were further along the trajectory of Greek migration management and were subsequently transferred to the Greek mainland. Her research therefore provides an encompassing analysis of the larger state-level infrastructures of humanitarian and administrative governance that does not merely receive migrants, but also includes practices that support social and economic inclusion. Through examining the multiple situations emerging out of those interactions at key waypoints along the eastern Mediterranean route, Lipatova contributes to ongoing critical discussions on the application of (dis)empowering technologies in border spaces.

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