americananthropologist.org | 3 February 2022
Holes in the Fence: The Summer of 2015
“Mom, why is that wired fence there? Why is there a padlock? Why are people locked in? Why can’t they go out?”
I tried to reassure my three-and-a-half-year-old son that the padlock was of little use. When his mom crossed the entrance to the Moria Registration and Identification Center and the padlock closed behind her, she would not be imprisoned. She would come out in eight to ten hours and meet him and his father again. The people who were inside the enclosure would also come out in three, four, five days, or in a week or two. I then tried to comfort him and explain that the wired fence was full of holes. People came in and out all the time. In fact, the people who were sleeping in the makeshift tents or the sheer ground around the enclosure were longing to get inside. The latter part was hard to explain: Why would people wait for weeks in the hills? Why would people even want to enter the fenced area? Why would people keep other people there? Finally, were people, after leaving Moria, the same? I could not explain to my son then, but in this short note, almost six years later, I will try to make sense of these questions about Moria in the summer of 2015.
My research in Moria explored bureaucratic practices and the overall treatment of human mobility and primarily focused on the police officers who, as the embodiment of the state, oversaw the Registration and Identification Center and performed border rituals, such as receiving border-crossers, fingerprinting, and entering their data to Greek and EU electronic databases. The police officers were exhausted and unable to keep up with the rhythm of the border. In an endless passage, hundreds and sometimes thousands of border-crossers arrived every day to be registered, deemed “irregular” for entering the country without authorization. The imperative was fast processing. In the summer of 2015, police officers worked in a totally different manner than before, as they strove to accelerate rather than decelerate mobility. In a sense, my research focused on the powerful who felt that they had become powerless. In an often-self-victimizing tone, the police officers expressed their exasperation and discontent. They were guarding the border on behalf of “Europe,” who merely wanted the unwanted border-crossers from Asia and Africa as far as possible away from its northern and western European core. However, unable to control and decelerate human mobility, the police officers were facilitating it.