Cite as: Bogaers, D., 2019, "Waiting for Europe – Invisibilization and non-politics in the margins of the Aegean sea". Master Thesis in Human Geography, Radboud University, the Netherlands.
It is the 18th of March 2016 and I am following a hiking trail in the South Island of New Zealand. I had conceived the plan to visit this country seven months earlier when volunteering at a Kibbutz (iconic type of farming community) in Israel. Having just finished my bachelor’s degree in philosophy in the Netherlands, no one curbs my curiosity: the most significant boundaries I experience are twenty minutes’ passport checks in airports. Meanwhile, at a distance of 20.000 kilometers, an agreement is reached between a block of nations and a regional power situated at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. It would stall the movements of millions of vulnerable and uprooted people and would subsequently become known as the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal. Among the main architects behind it were people of the small country on the other side of the globe that I could call ‘home’. At the moment, the significance of the event still escapes my attention. Having just made our way through a deciduous forest, my travel company and I (Switzerland, Chili and the Netherlands) arrive on a long stretch of beaches dotted with palm trees with steep cliffs all around us: a marvelous view.
Three years later, thousands of asylum seekers continue to be stranded on the Greek island of Lesvos as a consequence of the agreement. As part of Greece’s implementation of the stipulation that those whose asylum applications end up rejected are deported back to Turkey, they are forced to apply for asylum in the country and are prohibited from leaving for mainland Greece. As widely reported by international media, circumstances in the refugee camps on the island are dire. In particular, the largest refugee camp on the island – Moria Camp – suffers from significant overpopulation, with refugees living in unsanitary conditions in which diseases rapidly spread, lacking access to proper medical care, not being able to raise concerns to camp authorities (e.g., police or army) for the lack of interpreters, sleeping in summer tents in winter, living in an environment in which fights regularly break out between ethnic groups, and having to wait for months to get an interview to make progress in their asylum application. Unsurprisingly, this frequently results in the deterioration of mental health. It remains a strange realization that this does not take place in Afghanistan or Syria, but in Europe, the continent that invented human rights.
How did these policies concerning the reception of asylum seekers on Lesvos come about, and how should we conceptualize the exclusion that asylum seekers are subjected to in the context of the ‘containment policy’ alluded to above? Answering these questions will be the main objective of this thesis in the field of political geography. Specifically, I will contend that the persistence of these practices of exclusion on the island can be explained by the fact that there is no politics involved. By politics I do not mean the ‘actions of European governments’, but the opportunity of those concerned to contest decisions made by the powerful, which is as such thwarted in the case of Lesvos. Since a manifold of actors present – NGOs, administrative levels of government and the European Union – have a hand in what’s going on in the reception of asylum seekers on the Aegean islands, none of them in particular can be held accountable for wrongs suffered. This in turn makes effective contestation of the policies in place that lead to these wrongs an impossibility, whether by organizations or by refugees.
Read the complete Thesis on the attached pdf.