Narratives from Lesvos and the Borderscapes of the EU – Jenn Flemming

The Setting – The Refugee Camp on the Island of Lesvos, Greece

From 2015-2019, over 1.03 million people crossed borders into Greece with the intention of transiting onwards to Western Europe. By the end of that winter, over half a million had transited the island of Lesvos—via journeys begun in unseaworthy dinghies, with seats purchased from human traffickers in Turkey. Lesvos, a Greek island a mere four miles from mainland Turkey, was thus considered the “frontline of the refugee crisis.”


The Research

The study uses in-depth narratives and stories of border crossers and those involved in the humanitarian response to offer sometimes apolitical accounts; sometimes without regard to “migration” status or identity; and sometimes removed from past experiences. The study also used photography and image elicitation methods as another way to interact with participants. In doing so, it allowed research participants to choose how their stories were represented, told, and analyzed.   


The author used the term “borderscape” to describe the situation in Lesvos. The borderscape indicates a spatial and temporal enlargement of the border itself that centralizes the political tensions and shifting narratives of those both moving through and living within its limits. Within the borderscapes of Lesvos specifically and Greece more broadly, refugees often became stuck in a “frozen transience.”


Images of the Refugee Journey in Lesvos



The Findings – Narratives from Lesvos and the Humanitarian Borderscapes of the EU

The material, political, humanitarian, and legal practices in Lesvos can be best understood via examination of the overarching EU hotspot approach, which is the foundational policy of all migration and asylum governance decisions and processes on Lesvos.


The findings document how border crossers adapt, maneuver, and resist in order to continue their movement forward from the islands to mainland and eventually Western Europe. 


Border crossers express their right to mobility across the borderscape of Lesvos via use of bureaucratic and administrative processes, legal statuses, and legal and political terms to facilitate their own movement. 


Border crossers’ mobilities in the borderscape illuminate the tension between protection and restriction at the borders.


The Author

The author has worked as an independent consultant in cross-sectoral program design, assessment, and evaluation for NGOs operating with refugees and IDPs in Syria, Jordan, Greece, Lebanon, and Kenya with particular emphasis on youth programming and participatory methods.


Since 2016 she has worked periodically in Greece within the humanitarian response in the capacity of volunteer, humanitarian aid consultant and evaluator, documentary photographer, and researcher.  This study is her doctoral dissertation which she successfully completed in fall 2020. [3-21]