Cite as: Tsoni, I., 2016, “‘They won't let us come, they won't let us stay, they won't let us leave’. Liminality in the Aegean borderscape: The case of irregular migrants, volunteers and locals on Lesvos”. Human Geography 9(2): 35-46
This paper draws on ethnographic observations along the south-eastern Mediterranean informal migration route through the Aegean Sea. I focus on the Greek border island of Lesvos as the central stage where the European crisis of asylum has been recently unfolding. In the absence of coherent national and European asylum policies, newly arrived migrants, refugees, and receiving communities (comprised mainly of local residents and volunteers from mainland Greece and Europe) are left to cope with and against each other, leading to multiple personal and collective passages. In this interstitial transit space, subjectivities are made and remade through their participation and resistance to the ongoing production of EU borders. I suggest that liminality provides a useful lens through which to understand the perplexing ‘time-spaces’ and interactions between multiple actors involved in the teetering asylum system on the margins of Europe. I argue that, through various actors’ experiences on Lesvos as a complex social site, liminality emerges as a form of sustained social marginality and exclusion that extends beyond Lesvos itself. The protracted and broadened crisis context in which asylum-seekers and receiving communities of locals and volunteers on Lesvos find themselves provides a salient example of the gradual socio-spatial and temporal ‘stretching’ of liminality from a transitional phase towards a condition of permanent and portable liminality experienced at both the individual and the collective level, and both at and away from borders.