‘This is not another website’: The ‘assemblage’ of Lesvos Migration Atlas

Close Moria now!

De-victimise and give them paper

Safe passage

Open communities

Common living together

Destroy fences, camps, segregations

The passion for freedom is stronger than every prison cell (and borders)

We are all humans 

No borders, no nations!

Some of the words, letters and drawings that came out from the re-mapping workshops that took place in Lesvos, during the years 2018 – 2019. The workshops were addressing multiple people: students, researchers, academics, educators, aid workers, volunteers, migrants, refugees, and locals to map their common understandings and imaginaries of the refugee crisis.


Re-mapping workshops held in Mytilene during 2018-19, photos by Anna Carastathis and Naya Tselepi.

The workshops were engaging with the ‘refugee crisis’ in the context of the macrolevel, which, at the same time, converses with the everyday experiences of crisis at the microlevel. At the same time, the workshops were inspired by conceptualisations of the imaginary (Castoriadis, 1999) and the ‘collective imaginary’ (Stavrides, 2010), the principles of ‘sociological imagination’ (Mills, 1985) and the horizons that are opened by the ‘constituent imagination’
(Shukaitis and Graeber, 2007) and the corresponding ‘radical imagination’ (Haiven και Khasnabish, 2010). (…) 

The series of workshops juxtaposes, compares, and analyses the interactions between the macropolitical level and the micropolitics of everyday life. Specifically, in the context of individual actions, we will draw on the vocabulary of Deleuze and Guattari regarding the impalpable and the imperceptible (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994), in order to understand and include contemporary ‘imperceptible politics’ (Papadopoulos et al., 2008), which enrich perceptions and representations of political relations and acts in contemporary environments of governmentality. By these, we refer to social forces that depart from existing measures and regimes of surveillance and control, reminiscent of affect and collective processes, and which attempt to transform reality not only in dialectical but also in tangible and material ways.  Moreover, such ‘minor cracks’ neither have as their aim ‘another world outside of capitalism,’ nor ‘to destroy capitalism through an organised attack’; rather, they aim to create relations and actions that do not reproduce capitalist power relations (Holloway, 2010) and to reshape politics more broadly in parallel and imperceptible ways (Isin, 2002a, 2002b).

As an outcome of these, the Lesvos Migration Atlas[1] created by our research team on the basis of the philosophy of assemblages,opens up a common virtual space for multiple experimental ideas, representations, practices and acts which havethe potential to disrupt the politics of representation, borders and control.


spaces and places, people and populations, movements and migrations, borders and
hotspots, solidarity and resistance, everyday life and dreams…

as a state of emergency but also as a state of emergence

as the suffering of the earth, nature, materials, bodies…

and the symbolic capital of representations

from walls as borders to walls as canvases

as critical commentaries, commodities, and resistance

in the era of really ‘really’ late capitalism

of the untold, the unsaid, the unspeakable

as the basic process of (re)production of life

the common practices and acts that come after visibility

is our ‘ATLAS’; a cosmos of ideas,
representations, practices, acts, contradictions…

all together in a process of becoming…[2]



Photo from ‘Lesvos Migration Atlas’ website,

Our ‘Atlas’ is a process of capturing,writing and representing; multiple snapshots and processes in space and time; moving histories, narratives a§nd imaginaries for the so-called ‘refugee crisis’; artworks on walls and in the streets; everyday life of local, migrant and refugee population within various spaces of Lesvos island; from the hotspot of Moria to the common spaces of living and struggling together; an assemblage of constantly moving and emerging practices and situations that always seem impossible until they are done…


Photo from the hall of ‘One Happy Family’, Lesvos
by Naya Tselepi, November 2018
Collage of photos featured in

Naya Tselepi, Orestis Pangalos, Christy Petropoulou, Myrto Tsilimpounidi
May 2020



[2]Extract from research diary, November 2019.


‘The Other Side of Hope’

“The Other Side of Hope”, Aki Kausrismaki, 2017

Aki Kaurismaki’s film ‘The Other side of hope’ premiered in the Berlinale 2017 and was awarded the Silver Bear. One of the two main protagonists was a Syrian refugee who had reached Finland in seek of his lost sister. 

In an interview, protagonist Sherwin Haji from Syria, said he “was very skeptical about the whole thing”, when we was approached to play. “I mean, ethically. But when I read the script I think it was a very beautiful thing for me. And it convince me – not only on professional level, but on a human experience level that someone so far from the Middle East, from Finland, comes a director who really believes that it’s possible to make change and it was a fascinating thing to see how he dived so deep into the character of a refugee”.

In the movie, now as Ali Khalid, when interviewed by Finnish officials he answered: 

I am a mechanic. I worked in a garage on the outskirts of Aleppo.

On 6th April last spring, when i returned from work something had happened. 

When I arrived home it lay in ruins. I don’t know who fired the missile. 

Government troops, rebels, USA, Russia, Hezbollah or ISIS.

My sister Miriam arrived at the same time. She’d been in the shop, queuing for bread.

We started to dig right away. The neighbours helped. 

By morning, we’d found my father, my mother, my little brother, my uncle, his wife and their children. They’d been eating lunch together.

Next morning when we buried them, I borrowed 6000 dollars from my employer.

My cousin drove us in a van to the Turkish border. We crossed the border on foot.

We were lucky – there were no border guards.

After two weeks we paid 3000 dollars to a smuggler. 

He took us to Greece in a boat. From there we walked through Macedonia to Serbia.

We arrived to the Hungarian border. There was a panic and I lost sight of Miriam.

I saw them close the border. Miriam remained on the other side.

I tried to get back through the police line. Two policemen grabbed me and threw me down. 

They handcuffed me and put me in jail. 

Official: Did you experience violence?

Khalid: All the time. 

They tried to take my sister three times, but good people helped us.


Official: Continue. You were thrown into jail. 

Khalid: I was beaten up but released after four days. I searched for my sister but I could’t find her. 

I asked all the refugee camps, but no one knew anything. 

For months I went around Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Germany. 

I also went back to Serbia – I though she might look for me there. 

Official: How did you get across borders?

Khalid: Easily, no one wants to see us. We cause problems.

Official: Didn’t you apply for asylum anywhere?

Khalid: No. So I could move freely looking for my sister.  

On the premiere’s Press conference Mr Kaurismaki answered that ‘Cinema does not have such influence. But my honest try is to force the three people who go to see this film (think) that we are all the same, that we are all human. And tomorrow it will be you who will be a refugee. Today it’s him, or her.’

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019

Wall writing

‘What counts is reality’

‘What counts is reality – not the bullshit laws – no human is illegal.’ When this picture was presented in a conference amongst other relevant works, the conversation moved to the aspect of aesthetics. How the choices of aesthetics were decided, what typefaces, calligraphy or/and letter styling were incorporated by the artists? 

Bold letters, a bold statement, like a strong belief of perceiving and representing reality. No fanciness to speak what is thought by the acting persons as a true fact. The question they set is about the value and the legitimisation of law when people are killed in a war or trying to avoid it, drowned in the sea and stopped on the borders. 

In this particular case the message has to be easily read. Either from people walking on foot either from the passengers who ride the commuter and international trains passing by in quite a high speed. The abandoned train vessels stay there wrecked like huge dead animals and the site actually is a train cemetery. The whole site reminds of a scene after a long period of war. 

Neither any figurative elements are included in the work. But the written objects standing like ‘steel giants’ are themselves quite iconic, and consist themselves the actual figurative part of the picture captured by the photo camera. Thus In a way the figure is the train itself, somehow completed with the addition of the wild weeds in front of them. 

Furthermore, what is not obvious in the picture is the -most possibly intended- site specificity of the work. The abandoned trains’ location is Diavata area. The tracks lead to Eidomeni -the border to North Macedonia is, where a massive migrants camp had grew in 2015 – a news headline for months. The trains are also located very close to the Diavata hot spot. Additionally, they stand very close to the Diavata prisons -the only prisons in Thessaloniki metropolitan area. 

Trains in many respects represent mobility and in many cases freedom itself too[1]. But the trains are also standing still. During the past years, many of those specific trains offered temporary shelter to anyone who needed it. 

Those trains are distant from the main railway station and yet not of enough value to be sold as scrap. They stay still watching the trains go and they carry messages for the ones passing by. They are refused mobility, a privilege that the migrants themselves are asking as a principal human right.

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019

[1] For the metaphor of the Trains as freedom, Bill Daniel’s documentary ‘Who is Bozo Texino?’ (2005) is highly recommended.

photos: Jan Danebod, Orestis Pangalos


‘A yard turned to a hotspot’

In September 2019 numerous websites announced that  ‘the Thessaloniki Railway Station train yard has turned into a hotspot. The place was full of garbage and the hygiene is terrible’. The fact is that refugees and migrants had found shelter by occupying the abandoned trains –many of them were sleeping cars- that had been parked in the yard more than ten years ago and hadn’t moved ever since. A second fact is that indeed many plastic items such as bottles and food packages had been covering the stones between the wagons and the train tracks. Nevertheless beside those facts underlays another one. It is the informal admittance from the Press that the hot spots are really inhuman places where fundamental rights and any quality of life are absent, neglected dirty places that lack any infrastructure, safety and hygiene. So, this is the norm and again, this is regarded like a fact and like there is nothing we can do to turn them to better places. Paradoxically enough, they also demand the hot spots’ evictions as for example locals ask for Moria. However they ask so primarily not for the actual sensible reasons of the inhuman living conditions but for the locals’ own advantages. Accordingly, the abandoned train inhabitants -suchlike the hot spot inhabitants- are often presented as dangerous and threatening.  

Graffiti artists who were frequently visiting the same place in order to paint those and other trains testified diverse narrations. They became friends with the migrants and exchanged stories from their personal lives. They state that the squatters were not at all harmful to them. Pictures from their encounters show that their look was definitely well cared and clean. According to the artists, the inhabitants had even organised a barber shop in one of the trains’ coupes. 

Finally the train squatters were evicted and the wagons were moved seventy kilometers away after their long stay in the main station train yard.  Now new improved fences are replacing the older ones around the yard to prevent both migrants and graffiti artists to access any other parked trains.

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019


Death and dirt signifiers

In December 2017, the Greek Minister for Immigration Policy stated in an interview that he cannot guarantee that there would be no more dead people in Moria camp. This was even the softened version of what we first read in the news: “this winter there will be dead in Moria camp” or ‘“some refugees may freeze to death in the upcoming winter” just as had happened the previous one. Whatever the actual phrase was, the fact of the statements’ cynicism is the same. It actually admits the incapacity of the authorities to do the obvious: to protect the Moria population from the cold winter. It also accepts the inhumane conditions that led to last year’s deaths, and, worst of all, indicates the unwillingness to do something about it the next years. Such an approach also prepares the public for something that should be expected, is inevitable and, ultimately, is accepted. Or else, what has been widely known as a humanitarian disaster, is now legitimised. These words need no illustration; however, photographs of last winter in the camps come to mind: cold winter, no facilities, tents, snow, children, death.   

In late 2019, about two hundred refugees from Samos’ camps (where the conditions are not much different than in Moria) were transported to Vrasna village in Chalkidiki in order to stay at hotels for a period of six months. The locals did not accept the authorities’ decision; they “welcomed” the buses transporting refugees by throwing stones and thereby breaking some of the windows, finally succeeding to prevent their stay. A large part of the media covering the events spoke about racist behaviour. However, of particular interest is the opinion held by some journalists who suggested that the locals should had let the temporary residents stay there, most importantly because it is the government’s decision. They argued that citizens living anywhere in Greece should obey the government’s decisions and not create trouble—as they have previously done when protesting to prevent “investment plans” (for instance, in the struggle against gold mines in Chalkidiki) or protesting to reverse decisions about locations to dump the garbage produced in large urban areas. In such a narrative, it is not just the humanitarian approach that counts; more significant is the obedience to state laws and decisions. Consequently, the hateful riots of some people in Vrasna are falsely put in the same category as social movement struggles. Even worse, the refugees and migrants are seen as a problem, same as the garbage being dumped. A spatial matter arises too: in either case, the poorest of areas are chosen by the authorities to locate their infrastructures. The same can be said for the Moria settlement on Lesvos island.

A last comment about the Vrasna incident that represents the locals’ deeper rhetorics: an announcement claims that the locals “have been inhabiting the place for 2000 years and they hadn’t mixed with Minor Asia refugees in 1922.” Meaning they were hostile to them too —although considered Greek populations— proving their intolerance to any “invasion.”

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019



‘Patrias de Nailon’

A flag made of plaster was installed in a Valencia city plaza in 2016. Another pretentious quasi-political piece of art? Finally, a video projection would be screened on it featuring edited material including real war scenes and footage from the refugees on boats crossing the sea to reach Lesvos and other islands. Various countries’ flags would intervene between the shots representing the nations and their borders. In such a manner the artists were criticizing the nations’ laws, politics and the authorities’ actions for the refugee dramas and deaths. After a while the flag would burn in real flames and spectacularly collapse under the sound of music and fireworks while the audience were applauding. The whole concept and its result could be considered a quite inventive example of mix media art performative installation in public space, treating and ultimately successfully commoning such a sensitive subject.


Orestis Pangalos


Patrias de nailon, Javier Jaen and Jose Lafarga, Valencia 2016

Wall writing

Suffering doesn’t stop when one leaves the hotspot

In Athens, February 8, 2019 young Embuka was beaten to death in a central police precinct. His relatives were seeking to find him for days. Arts and music collective Antifa lab chose a provocative interference to make the killing known to wider audiences. They chose to write on a well-known commercial artwork commissioned by a sports industry. The artworks image is of Giannis Antetokounmpo -now a global superstar, who has experienced what it is growing being a poor immigrant of African descent in Greece. The collective chose to comment Embuka’s death and similar acts of authoritarian violence writing on the drawing’s background that ‘if Antetokounmpo was not playing in the NBA, he might be dead in Omonoia police precinct’. 

However, their act did not actually vandalised the artwork. They showed respect to Giannis’ figure and only did write on the solid colour surface next to him allowing this way the easy repair of the whole picture. 

They made pictures afterwards and let the media know. The media-including popular sports websites- subsequently published new articles and pictures also mentioning the original source. In such a way they also triggered a web discourse on the web forums.


Orestis Pangalos


Wall writing

Muhammed and Hussin

Two tags written with spray paint on the wall right outside the One Happy Family solidarity structure in Lesvos. Two names that are neither Greek nor western. 

Name writing as part of the same family of inscriptions in public and private spaces is deeply rooted throughout human history.  Being at the same time essential acts of presence, one of the many applications of such traces in space is communicating messages. In this particular case, the two names are evidence of visibility. They had been there, then they moved elsewhere on the island, but the evidence they passed through stands there because they wrote it on the wall. Besides the people who know them personally and recall their personalities, the rest of the audience who sees their names also reads the origin of their names. 

Although name writing has a long tradition and a great number of variant writing cultures, in this specific act of visibility one can find analogues to the birth of the New York City graffiti writing in the early 1970s. At that time and place, the majority of graffiti writers were coming from the poorest of segregated neighbourhoods, and from minority and migrant populations, many of whom had recently arrived from other countries. The neglected areas in which they were living had already been turned into ghettos with poor infrastructures, and inhumane conditions. At the same time as they were the victims of state politics and local authorities’ policies, the populations of these ghettos were being accused of being the source of problems facing the city. New York City kids started tagging their environment. Their very own presence in every city corner through writing their names on walls and on the sides of the subway cars was signifying their vital energy, their creative potential, and their existence—which ran counter to their construction as insignificant in the dominant discourse. Their name writing practice created what later became a worldwide art form and a global culture. In this sense, although the content of the youths’ names was not explicitly political, the act of writing them itself was totally political. Through their invented names, written on the city’s surfaces, they were proving their existence, they were representing various forms of belonging, and, last but not least, they were making visible their cultural backgrounds. 

In a very similar manner, today’s public discourse disorients when it accuses migrants—those who suffer the conditions they have been involuntarily experiencing—as being responsible for the conditions they experience as well as causing any number of other everyday problems. They want to keep them segregated and invisible, confined to inhumane ghettos like Moria camp. In such a manner, although they may not seem to incorporate a political message on the first reading, the tags of Muhammed’s and Hussin’s names can be read as examples of important political writings on the islands’ walls.


Orestis Pangalos



Baudrillard, Jean. 1993. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage Publications.

Fliesher, Alan and Paul Iovino with introduction by Phase 2. 2012. Classic Hits: New York’s Pioneering Subway Graffiti Writers, Stockholm: Dokument Press.

Sennett, Richard. 1970. The uses of disorder: personal identity & city life. New York: Knopf.

Wall writing

Slow Death

The picture featured is an exceptional composition with various drawings that depict the refugee situation, with various symbolisms. It was drawn on the front door of the ‘Softex’ hotspot in Thessaloniki, which functioned as a temporary camp for about two thousand people. Previously, the building had been abandoned for a long period (it was formerly the site of the Softex paper factory).

What one can see drawn on the surface is a few shadowy figures of various sizes, ages and genders walking an up hill road. Hard, as hard as the refugee route is. Actually, they are walking on a razors’s edge. The figures’ shapes are reflected on the razor’s surface, in the same way they would be reflected on water, in a river or in the sea. The edge drips some sort of liquid. The material is pencil so there is no colour, but one could suggest it is either tears or (most possibly) blood. In the middle of the razor there is a human skull, on left side of which reads ‘slow’ and on the right side ‘death’. Like the torture of waiting in a state of stagnation and imprisonment in the camp during the hot summer, when what is felt as most important is to move forward. The scenery is, at least, dramatic. 

If one looks from a further distance, the main depiction is surrounded by two further figures, these drawn in the style of caricature. On the lower right, there is a soldier pointing a machine gun at the people walking on their way, as though he is forcing them to leave their places. His face is devilish, referring to western traditions. His moustache reminds one of World War II leaders. A friend remarked that it is possibly depicting the Syrian President. On the upper left, another caricature, this one most obviously reminiscent of the current German chancellor. 

Further drawings and writings are displayed, offering an organic dynamic appearance, as palimpsests present. Like they were created in time. Another character intervenes as an extra layer. It is looks like a child’s smiling face, childishly drawn, very possibly drawn by a child’s hand. Random layers of Arabic writing with marker and spray paint add to the whole composition. The figure of an eye is included, as well as a few traces of iron works on the metal door that look like the material’s wounds. They must be traces made by real fire; they fit together with some other brownish or faded red colour strokes that look like traces of real blood. A few tiny blue duck figures stamped by a child’s toy stamp are evident of a child’s contribution to the picture, making it even stronger and more unique. Children would be playing in front of the former warehouse, numbering, then, a few thousand in the ‘hotspot.’ Questions arise: who were the artists, and how many similar pictures did they create during their long route? A local artist who occasionally worked in the camp said that both the central drawing and the two main caricatures were drawn by a 50 year-old Iraqi man. His tent had been pitched right next to that door.



‘Our problem is not economical’

Eidomeni, November 2015. Since the summer, the camp that had formed in Idomeni was daily in the international news. Thousands of people of various nationalities gathered there in order to cross to North Macedonia in groups. However, accessing the borders became more and more difficult. The earlier flexibility of access toward the North was becoming severely controlled; the borders were now guarded. Gradually, with few exceptions, no one was allowed to cross.

In those days, to protest this outcome, groups of people from Iran went on hunger strike. They lay on the train tracks at precisely the limit separating the two states, at the feet of the armed forces of repression of the northern side. Further back, still on the train tracks, a person from Iran–wearing signature sunglasses and a scarf–is reciting and singing. The banner behind him writes ‘Our problem is not economical.’ In this case, even if he was referring to his own ethnic group, the first person plural ascribed to common experience a collective character. Indeed, each one of all those who had arrived there from their places of origin, had attempted to escape bombings, civil war, violence, or political persecution. The declaration spray-painted on the banner offers itself up to further interpretations: On the one hand, it may constitute a response to the frequent distinction made between refugees and migrants, whereby the former ‘are entitled’ to move, while the latter do not, since they are not fleeing from a state of war. In cases where reasons are not fleeing war, they are often presented in public discourse as ‘economic causes,’ so, for ‘employment reasons.’ Thus, they are deemed to be undesirable, since, in this way, the jobs of local populations are thought to be more precarious. On a deeper reading, however (nevertheless very unlikely to be the desired meaning of the banner’s creators), the message could be addressed to all those who had experienced or were still experiencing the consequences of the ongoing Greek financial crisis–indeed, many of whom had already been forced to emigrate in search for work–that is, for ‘financial reasons.’ This would, in a way, be a fairly convincing argument for those who defend the right to migrate to Greece vis-à-vis those holding the opposing view.

Several cameras–photojournalists and filmmakers–capture the action, which a multiracial audience seems to enjoy. Meanwhile, their gazes turn to the background: a person succeeds in passing through the barbed wire fence and is running to escape from the police officers who are chasing him. The crowd applauds and smiles; some are celebrating. A little later, the fugitive returns with an escort, as his flight ended abruptly at the next checkpoint. A little bit further down, feelings of injustice,  anticipation, and anxiety turned to rage; spontaneously, small episodes broke out.

Approximately ten days had passed since the prohibition of access to the mudflat of Idomeni. Despite the rains, the unseasonably mild weather contributed to maintaining morale. Despite the miserable living conditions, people’s eyes were still hopeful. A few weeks later, the camp was destroyed; even the approach from Thessaloniki to the border was strictly controlled. In the months that followed, most of those who managed to cross the sea to Greece remained trapped in the hotspots of the Aegean islands.

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019