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Mobilities Through and Against Governance: Narratives from Lesvos, Greece and the Humanitarian Borderscapes of the EU

From 2015-2019, over 1.03 million people crossed borders into Greece with the intention of transiting onwards to Western Europe. Nearly 800,000 of these border crossers left Turkey via the Aegean Sea and landed on the island of Lesvos. Over the course of the humanitarian crisis that ensued, international humanitarian actors, responders, and volunteers descended upon the island. The Greek State simultaneously organized and implemented its own handling of “the crisis.” In this dissertation, I review theory, practice, and discourse related to the concepts of borders, the nation state and governance/governmentality, humanitarianism and humanitarian borderwork, and the refugee as these pertain to the crisis and response from 2015-2019 in Lesvos, Greece. I offer in-depth description of events, policies, practices, and experiences of those involved in the humanitarian response efforts on the island. This research was conducted via my own movement through the borderscapes of Greece, tracing irregular interactions with government and border enforcement officials, to interviews with camp management, to the co-developed stories and photographs of the lives of refugees confined to the island. The dissertation is an ethnography of the humanitarian response in Lesvos, based in critical and participatory qualitative methods. It is based on 90 individual interactions of data collection with 61 unique participants. Throughout six chapters, this dissertation illuminates seven broad findings. These describe the complex and irregular norms of the borderscape as examined via the political framework of the overarching EU hotspot approach which comprises the foundational policy of all migration and asylum governance processes on Lesvos. The dissertation examines how border crossers express their right to mobility to/within/away from Lesvos via use of bureaucratic and administrative processes, legal status, and political terms. Via personal narratives, such mobility across borders is illuminated as often non-linear and expressed via diverse spatial and temporal perspectives. Border crossers describe, claim, sometimes embrace and other times reject the spaces, systems, and organizations that support and administer migration policy and humanitarian response. Thus, they expose the tensions and contradictions between protection and restriction at the borders of the EU, as well as the potential of individuals to continue their own movement forward.
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