PhD defence: "Crisis Encounters – Constructing the figure of the migrant-Other in post-2015 Greece"

From ‘refugee in need’ to ‘illegal immigrant’

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Arguably one of the most impactful European events of the recent years, the refugee ‘crisis’ of 2015 garnered considerable media attention and monopolized the political and public discourses for years. In the process, the image of the migrant as a 'refugee in need' shifted to that of an 'illegal immigrant'. Vasileios Gerasopoulos investigated which factors influenced the construction of the migrant-Other in the Greek context. When migration is experienced as a crisis, the migrants themselves become the personification of the crisis. Crucial to understanding the relationship between the migrant and the host society, it appears, is not the arriving Other but the receiving host. 

As is well known, nearly one million migrants passed through Greece in 2015, on their way to Northern Europe through the Western Balkan route, with more than 200.000 people crossing the Greek border in the month of October alone. The numbers, reports, images and debates around the wave of migration of 2015 mobilized a myth around the refugee ‘crisis’. Namely that it is a 'crisis' – a never-before-seen occurrence, a shock, a unique moment in time.

For all the potential advantages or disadvantages of such conception of 'crisis', the refugee 'crisis' signified a new encounter with the arriving migrant-Other. In this 'new' encounter, there were opportunities for a re-negotiation and reconfiguration of the relationships between the host society and the migrant-Other, and of the attitudes of the former towards the latter. As such, the objective of this study is to provide a tentative trajectory of how the figure of the ‘refugee in need’ of 2015 largely reverted to the figure of the 'illegal immigrant' within a few years. In this encounter with the migrant-as-stranger, the present research explores the factors that influenced the construction of the migrant-Other in the Greek context.

The reactions to this form of migration are, within the Greek and European context, remarkably consistent over time. Migration policies, political discourse and public opinion on migration remain fixated on the same principles: deterrence, securitization, defensive and hostile attitudes, and categorisation of those who do and do not deserve international legal protection. An alternative response might be to take seriously the available research on the shortcomings of migration policies, to deconstruct populist, nationalist and racist myths, and to highlight the many material, financial and cultural benefits that the presence of migrants brings.

By way of conclusion, it appears that after 2015 Greece became entangled in a crisis of migration policy and burden-sharing, rather than a 'refugee crisis'. But when migration is experienced as a crisis, the migrants themselves become the personification of the crisis. The interactions between the host society and the incoming populations reflected a tidal movement: towards and away from the migrant-Other, depending on whether the migrant was seen as a symbol of need or of illegality. This was governed by the essentializing effects of dehumanization, whereby the figure of the migrant was streamlined as either the idealized subject of solidarity or the demonized manifestation of threat. 

Crucial to understanding the relationship between the migrant and the host society, is not the arriving Other but the receiving host, who comes to the undesirable realization of an imagined but ultimately fragile and destabilized superiority. Thus, the encounter with the migrant-Other was filtered through the degradation of the position of the Self as a citizen and subject in the neoliberal capitalist framework, a subject ceaselessly forced to deal with his own precarity and withering status (civil, economic, cultural, and existential). 

Start date and time
End date and time
Location
Academiegebouw, Domplein 29, Utrecht, and online
PhD candidate
mr. V. Gerasopoulos
Dissertation
Crisis Encounters – Constructing the figure of the migrant-Other in post-2015 Greece
PhD supervisor(s)
prof. dr. D. Siegel - Rozenblit
Co-supervisor(s)
dr. D. Zaitch