Inhabiting the permanently temporary: readings of protracted displacement in Greece

TRAFIG at the Geographies' conference in Greece

On 26 November 2022, colleagues from the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki organized a thematic panel at the 3-day national Conference “Crises, Resistances, Prospects” at Harokopio University in Athens. This conference celebrated 22 years of “Geographies”, the major Greek journal of geography.

The session organised by TRAFIG researchers Panos Hatziprokopiou, Eva Papatzani, Alexandra Siotou and Filyra Vlastou-Dimopoulou was titled “Inhabiting the permanently temporary: readings of protracted displacement in Greece” and consisted of four presentations. Each presentation focused on a different dimension of our TRAFIG study, namely the spatialities, temporalities, relationalities and economies of displacement in Greece in the aftermath of the so-called “refugee crisis” and its management since 2016. Yet all four topics touched upon displaced people’s (im)mobilities and (dis)connectivities, and unveiled multiple facets of individual or collective agency within the constraints of an ever complex and restrictive governance regime and overall negative (geo)political climate.

The panel started with an introduction to the project’s overall objectives and key concepts and an overview of TRAFIG research across continents. Eva Papatzani then presented her paper entitled “And yet… they move: disrupting socio-spatial figurations of displacement in Greece”, focusing on the geography of displacement within the Greek reception system which imposes multiple restrictions on displaced people’s possibilities for movement and accommodation. The paper emphasised how they may exercise agency through practices of mobility that, despite their precarity, may allow them to break through that geography, thus intervening and transforming it.

The second presentation was by Alexandra Siotou, baring the title “Count(er)ing waitings: the temporalities of the reception and asylum system in Greece”. Her paper focused on the content of waiting, with which protracted displacement is interwoven, exploring the ways in which displaced subjects experience - bodily and emotionally - the multiple and parallel waitings imposed by the reception and asylum system. The paper highlights the strategies they adopt in their attempt to cope with the precarities produced through waitings and the waitings produced through their precarious position.

Filyra Vlastou-Dimopoulou next spoke on "Relationalities and interactions: exploring the possibilities of relatedness in a context of protracted displacement”. She highlighted how the displaced subjects’ limited autonomy may lead to mediated relationships of various kinds, underlined ways in which the boundaries keeping displaced people and host populations at a distance may take very embodied forms, and yet showed instances where diverse alliances and contacts emerged out of joint activities in common spaces. In doing so, her paper reflected critically on the conceptual and methodological challenges of exploring “relations” between “displaced people” and “host societies”, at the threshold between temporariness and permanency.

The final presentation was by Panos Hatziprokopiou on “The politics of displacement and unequal development: economic geographies of migrant camps”. This explored the diverse economic practices, transactions and relations that develop around refugee camps in specific local contexts, discussing the key economic actors and the overlapping spatialities in which they (inter)act. Building on material from the islands of Lesvos and Chios, the paper argued that reception policies instigate “development” by producing values and mobilising resources in ways that enhance existing inequalities or give birth to new ones.

The presentations were followed by questions and a fruitful discussion stimulated by the critical reflections of two discussants (Dr D. Lafazani, Prof. A. Papadopoulos).