The European Refugee Crisis and the Crisis of Citizenship in Greece

by Heath Cabot, University of Pittsburgh

Refugees and citizens

In this essay, I argue that the increasing neoliberalization and austeritization of Europe are crucial aspects of the European refugee response. While, from a policy perspective, austerity has been framed largely in terms of its effects on citizens and the welfare state, my research highlights the close relationship between the rights afforded to refugees (grounded on alienage) and those granted to citizens. In both scholarly and popular discourse, refugees are often treated as exceptional to the framework of citizenship. In Europe today, however, the predicaments of citizens and refugees alike share a conceptual panorama. The steady dismantling of citizens’ rights on Europe’s borders, alongside the crisis with regard to the reception of refugees, attests to the increasing precaritization of the terrain of rights as they apply to both citizens and refugees in Europe. Scholarship in political philosophy has often framed the refugee as the antithesis, or mirror image, of the citizen: the other who, in being cast out of the polis, reinforces the insides of the body politic.

The refugee has thus been characterized as a legal “freak” (Arendt 1976 [1951]) whose aberrant qualities highlight the inextricable link between national belonging and human rights, the “bare life” (Agamben 1998) that exposes the troubled grounds of citizenship. Anthropological scholarship has explored the peculiar position of refugees and asylum seekers as “matter out of place” (Douglas 1966): antithetical to, and yet constitutive of, what Malkki calls “the national order of things” (Malkki 1995, 1995). Symbolically and ideologically, then, refugees have often called attention to stark lines of inclusion and exclusion on which citizenship is based in a world organized according to nation states. Since 2005, I have been conducting long‐term ethnographic research on asylum and social support infrastructures in Greece. Following other qualitative migration scholarship (Coutin 2000, 2005; Coutin and Yngvesson 2006; Coutin 2007; Cohen 1991; Ngai 2004; Menjívar and Coutin 2014; Mountz et al. 2002), my research highlights the complex and fluid ways in which refugees and asylum seekers move across the boundaries of formal legal recognition, showing the border between citizen and alien to be much more flexible than it might first appear.

On the one hand, refugees (and others occupying the position of “aliens” within a national territory), often live “substantively” as citizens (Basch et al. 1994; Glick Schiller and Fouron 2001), irrespective of their formal legal status: participating actively in social networks and political actions, and identifying in many ways with the “host” country. On the other hand, those with the formal trappings of citizenship also navigate their own experiences of alienage and otherness, whether in terms of gender, race, class, sexual orien30 tation, or other forms of marginalization and frameworks of in/ex‐clusion. In 2005, Greece emerged as the primary entrypoint into Europe for persons fleeing Iraq and Afghanistan. At that time, Greece was at a highpoint politico‐economically: enjoying the initial burst of growth following accession to the Euro and deregulation (Placas 2009), as well as the infrastructural improvements following the Olympic Games. Over the next few years, Greece, with its land and sea borders (in the Evros region in the North, and in the Aegean, respectively), became an increasingly fraught doorstep of Europe (Cabot 2014). In 2009, Evros emerged as the most trafficked external EU border.

Through this spike in asylum and labor‐related migration, a country often framed as unproblematically homogeneous, where the ethnos or nation was seen to have “triumphed” long ago (Just 1989), increasingly reckoned, en masse, with the presence of persons marked as “other.” These encounters with alterity served both to buoy up and throw into question existing notions of Greekness. Still, the assumed boundary demarcating Greek citizens, those inside the body politic, remained strikingly robust in relation to those marked as “foreigners” (xenoi). Austerity and the crisis of citizenship With the rise of austerity in Europe and the harsh, top‐down austerity packages imposed after the Greek debt crisis (framed as “trimming the fat” of the public sector), the extant Greek welfare state has been increasingly dismantled. Mass unemployment (26%), pension cuts (of 30‐50%), the increasing privatization of the public sector, material shortages in pharmaceuticals and medical technologies— these are just a few of the trends that characterize austeritization in Greece.

Austerity has thus drastically impinged upon citizens’ rights, throwing the meaning of citizenship itself into crisis. Access to stable employment, healthcare, retirement, and education— all long accepted as crucial to the configuration of Greek (and European) citizenship—is now increasingly precarious. As the Greek debt crisis has continued to unfold, it has overlapped with the refugee crisis of 2015‐16. Greece has become the key entrypoint for those seeking protection in Europe, placing extraordinary pressures on state, NGO, and community‐based infrastructures which have sought to respond to the needs of new arrivals. With the recent EU/Turkey deal (in March 2016) to deport those deemed “irregular migrants” to Turkey, formally recognizing Turkey as a “safe third country,” Greece promises to become the last territorial holding cell on Europe’s borders, as routes of internal European migration have been shut down, along with the “Balkan route” between Greece and contiguous European territory. The austerity‐racked Greek state, unable to provide adequate services even for its own citizens, is hamstrung with regard to receiving, caring for, and “managing” refugees.

As such, international organizations and NGOs have stepped in (as they so often do), and perhaps even more strikingly, widespread, highly organized, grassroots movements based on the principle of “solidarity” have emerged, offering support to both citizens and non‐citizens. Solidarity networks provide services where other formal infrastructures of support have failed, particularly in the arenas of housing, food, and medical care. The ways in which “regular people” increasingly fill in for a state ravaged by austerity attests to the overlapping predicaments, and the difficulty of accessing livable lives, faced by both citizens and non‐citizens on Europe’s borders.

Solidarity on Europe’s margins

The notion of “Fortress Europe” presents an image of the EU as a smooth, homogeneous territory, with a common enemy outside, eliding the differentials in power, sovereignty, and capacity that structure the European Union both in regimes of migration management and finance. A view from the margins of Europe, however, makes such power differentials, and the constitutive inclusions and exclusions within Europe itself, impossible to ignore. The longstanding marginality of Greece has come to the fore in European responses to the debt crisis, and now the refugee crisis, through critiques not just of Greek leadership but of Greeks themselves and Greek “culture.” Serious discussions regarding a “Grexit” (whether from the Euro‐zone or Schengen Area) link Greece’s symbolic marginality to concrete geopolitical and financial precariousness.

Anthropologists have long studied the segmentary logics of belonging: the ways in which relations between those deemed insiders or “kin,” versus those marked as strangers, shift according to varying scales on which threats to in‐group cohesion are identified. While refugees have been marked as others outside the body politic of Europe (though now territorially “inside”), there are also those who have long been marginalized even within the European imaginary. Greece, in particular, has occupied a peculiarly unstable position within Europe. Michael Herzfeld (1987, 2002) has shown that, on the one hand, Greece has often been framed as a font of European civilization for the symbolic role of antiquity in the West. On the other hand, through an internal European Orientalism, Greece has been marked as backward, disorganized—a problem child of Europe, contaminated by the cultural and political influences of the East.

Greece, however, has acquired a new image during the current refugee crisis thanks to the remarkable grassroots responses of the Greek populace, as residents have mobilized to provide care for new arrivals and establish solidarity with refugees. These responses have made headlines internationally, even garnering a couple of Nobel Peace Prize nominations, for how Europe’s poorest country has been “the most welcoming to refugees.” The overwhelming “hospitality” of much of the Greek populace has been particularly impressive not just owing to the recent increase of neo‐ Nazism in Greece, but also thanks to the increasingly dominant xenophobia articulated in other countries on Europe’s margins (Hungary and Poland, in particular).

What many do not know about the solidarity movement in Greece is that these grassroots networks have, since 2011, provided services to both citizens and non‐citizens who have fallen victim to the debt crisis and austerity. These existing networks formed a crucial organizational and ideological backbone on which solidarity with refugees has been enacted in 2015‐16. Solidarity (allileggii) in Greek refers to the act of being close or near to “the other,” however that other is conceived. Solidarity initiatives have included pantopoleia (or groceries), soup kitchens, anti‐middlemen markets (Rakopoulos 2014, 2015), and clinics and pharmacies (Cabot 2016).

Since January 2015, I have carried out research on the meaning and of practice solidarity in Greece under austerity, focusing on solidarity clinics and pharmacies in Athens. This research thus builds on my earlier work on the role of the NGO sector in Greece in providing service provision and legal aid to asylum seekers and refugees. Yet whereas my earlier project focused on the distribution of rights and services to those marked explicitly as “aliens,” my current 32 research considers how diverse groups of people (citizens and non‐citizens) become both beneficiaries of, and participants in, solidarity networks. Solidarity initiatives, while extremely diverse, by and large seek to provide often urgently needed services through lateral and horizontally organized modes of resource redistribution.

As such, they attempt to transform shared modes of precariousness and need into new forms of community, creating frameworks of shared participation and belonging that might transcend differences in class, race, gender, as well as country of origin. Of course, the way in which solidarity is ideologically conceived and imagined may differ strikingly from how it unfolds in practice (and indeed, for all of solidarity’s strengths, many forms of power asymmetry and exclusion also permeate solidarity work). What I want to emphasize here, however, is how a social and political movement practicing novel forms of resource distribution, with accompanying visions of political community, has increasingly taken on the work of the welfare state in providing crucial services to both citizens and refugees. Solidarity in Greece has emerged concurrently as a way to respond to fellow citizens in need as well as to the needs of refugees. Yet, despite the impressive scale and organizational level of solidarity networks, we must not forget—as “solidarians” themselves often lament—that solidarity itself is a direct product of austerity.

Solidarity work is done, in large part, because those institutions formally responsible for providing rights and services have either failed to show up (in the case of institutions of European governance) or have actively been dismantled (in the case of the Greek state). Thus, in approaching the refugee crisis, and Europe’s perplexing response to it, it is crucial to hold in the same field of vision the predicaments of both citizens and refugees on the margins. The failure of the state of rights, which we see increasingly in Europe, and the increasing capitulation to neoliberal austerity policies, have formed the ground for modes of both inclusion and exclusion through which citizens and non‐citizens are able (or not) to access and realize livable livelihood. References Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated by D. Heller‐ Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Arendt, Hannah. 1976 [1951].

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Nations of emigrants : shifting boundaries of citizenship in El Salvador and the United States. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Coutin, Susan, and Barbara Yngvesson. 2006. Backed by Papers: Undoing Persons, Histories, and Return. American Ethnologist 33 (2):177‐ 190. Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and danger: an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. London,: Routledge & K. Paul. Glick Schiller, Nina, and Georges Fouron. 2001. Georges Woke up Laughing: Long‐distance Nationalism and the Search for Home. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Herzfeld, Michael. 1987. Anthropology through the Looking‐Glass: Critical Ethnography on the 33 Margins of Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Repeated Author. 2002. The absent presence: discourses of crypto‐colonialism. The South Atlantic Quarterly 101 (4):900‐926. Just, Roger. 1989. The Triumph of the Ethnos. In History and Ethnicity, edited by E. Tonkin, M. McDonald and M. Chapman. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Malkki, Liisa. 1995. Purity and Exile: Violence and National Cosmology Among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Repeated Author. 1995.

Refugees and exile: from ‘refugee studies’ to the national order of things.

Annual Review of Anthropology 24:495‐523. Menjívar, Cecilia, and Susan Bibler Coutin. 2014. 18 Challenges of Recognition, Participation, and Representation for the Legally Liminal: A Comment. In Migration, Gender and Social Justice: Springer. Original edition, Migration, Gender and Social Justice. Mountz, Alison, Richard Wright, Ines Miyares, and Adrian J. Bailey. 2002. Lives in Limbo: Temporary Protected Status and Immigrant Identities. Global Networks 2 (4):335–356. Ngai, Mae M. 2004. Impossible subjects : illegal aliens and the making of modern America, Politics and society in twentieth‐century America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Placas, Aimee J. 2009. The emergence of consumer credit in Greece| An ethnography of indebtedness. Doctoral dissertation. Edited by R. University. Rakopoulos, Theodoros. 2014.

The crisis seen from below, within, and against: from solidarity economy to food distribution cooperatives in Greece. Dialectical Anthropology 38:189‐207. Repeated Author. 2015. Solidarity’s Tensions: Informality, Sociality and the Greek Crisis. Social Analysis 59 (3). Explaining State Responses to Refugees Lamis Abdelaaty, Syracuse University, Nearly five million Syrians, over half of them children, have fled to neighboring countries. Za’atari refugee camp is Jordan’s fourth largest city. In Lebanon, one in five people is a Syrian refugee.

Elsewhere, Nigerians have crossed Nigerien and Cameroonian borders by the tens of thousands. And across the globe, thousands of people are struggling to escape deadly violence in Central America. Depending on how other states respond, these refugees may be allowed to escape persecution and violence in their country, or they may be forced back. They may be permitted to live where they wish, earn an income, pursue an education, and access medical treatment. Or they may be confined to a camp, forced to rely on aid, and denied basic services.

For the purposes of this essay, a “refugee” is an individual who has fled persecution or large‐scale violence. Not only are the lives of millions of refugees around the world in the balance, but state responses to refugees have consequences for international security as well. Refugee protection can be thought of as an international public good that increases security for all states, as Suhrke (1998) argues. The reception given to refugees can shape whether a conflict spills over borders, how long a war will grind on, and


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