Living in the Enduring 2015 “Refugee Crisis”: The Perspectives of Lesvos’ Local Populations

Sarantidis, Dimos (2021). Living in the Enduring 2015 “Refugee Crisis”: The Perspectives of Lesvos’ Local Populations. PhD thesis The Open University.



In this thesis I focus on the ongoing consequences of the 2015 “refugee crisis” for the local populations of the Greek island of Lesvos, whose voices have been overlooked by various intervening state and non-state actors. A key contribution of this work is its focus on the voices and concerns of local populations, which offers a new analytical lens for exploring the refugee crisis. Drawing on a qualitative, field-based research on Lesvos I explore why and how a phenomenon that was initially framed as a crisis and a temporary emergency became enduring and mundane. I also examine how this protracted and exceptional situation affected locals’ everyday lives by amplifying pre-existing problems related to the Greek financial crisis. In considering the various actors that have intervened on Lesvos, I explore their roles and interactions with locals in order to understand how these relationships play out on the ground. By using the perspective of locals, I am seeking to shed more light on the impact of certain interventions. In that respect, I explore how the endurance of the state of emergency impacted regular democratic procedures on Lesvos as well as Greek state sovereignty.

I found that, first, the impact of the refugee crisis needs to be analysed in conjunction with the lasting effects of the financial crisis. This “crisis within a crisis” created a suffocating environment for locals, with various economic, social, psychological, and environmental implications. Second, I found that the various interventions and exceptional policies on Lesvos have become normalised. Lesvos has become an exceptional space where the rule of law is systematically violated in the name of crisis, emergency, humanitarianism and security. Local populations, in turn, have found themselves being abandoned by law, because the border regime policies are devoid of democratic legitimacy and public contest. Third, various intervening actors contributed to enabling exceptional policies on the ground. Humanitarian actors’ dependence on donor funding has made them align with certain interests and agendas. This frequently resulted in silencing injustices that the EU border policies produce and gave space for exceptional political agendas to be embedded locally. Finally, I found that the “state of exception” in Greece and Lesvos during the past 10 years has resulted in the escalation of an already established “crypto-colonial” context, which expresses itself in overt ways, with political, economic and discursive components.

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