Contested Borderscapes of Mytilene Port

The port of Mytilene was an open (not fenced) boarding and disembarking area despite being located at the country’s borders. Until 1870, boarding and disembarking was done by boats coming along the waterfront. All public events, rallies, demonstrations and celebrations took place there. In 1832 the town’s salvation from the plague was celebratedand Lesvos’ union on November 1912.

In July 1922, the, then, government (under the reign of Constantine) pursuant to Law 2870-20 / 7/1922 and in the face of the impending loss of the Greek-Turkish war decided to prevent the “illegal” exit of the inhabitants of Asia Minor to Greece. In September 1922, after the destruction of Smyrna, many women and children from Asia Minor came aboard the Egyptian ship Kedivie without the necessary papers. In Asimakis Panselinos’ literary work (2001: 124) , it is mentioned that two Smyrnaeans, who did not have in their possession the necessary papers, quarrelled with the representative of the port, who had come from Athens to impose the Law; prohibiting, thus, their entry to the island. Then the narrator notes that some locals stepped out of the cafes, grabbed the port officer, immobilized him and helped the women to get out. They then brought the women to the cafe and t treated them; while in the meantime,people from Mytilene forced the port officer to get in a boat and sent him back to Piraeus to get better instructions. “And again the ships began to arrive with refugees without a passport.” In the following years, they settled in Greece and the population exchanges caused many conflicts and racist outbursts in the country (Kordatos, 1958).

During World War II and the EAM struggles, the port became famous again for its anti-fascist battles. On 24 December  1944, British colonial troops attempted to land on Lesvos with the aim of suppressing the EAM, as hadalready been done in Piraeus. Following EAM’s call, Lesvos’ residents went to the port, built roadblocks (blocks) and did not allow the army to land, saying the well-known “Go Back”.

Later, the modern port was formed.

Almost 60 years later, in 2009, the port of Mytilene became the reception center for young people coming to organize the world festival No Border Camp. The Camp played an important role in changing the policy in relation to the closed inhuman refugee detention center in Pagani (which was built between 2000-2001) and  to its final closure. During this period, the slogan “no borders” prevailed.

However, at the port between 2013 and 2014, especially during the winter months, mass transfers of refugees to the mainland were taking place under a vicious regime of human rights violations. At night, children’s and women’s shoes, cardigans, and bags were left behind, after the forcible enclosure of the refugees on military ships. The port was closed to passers-by.

It is the beginning of the port’s fencing geo-trauma (see post: the fenced eyes of the port), which was to be completedafter the EU-Turkey agreement  (March 2016) and the establishment of the modern disputed borders between Lesvos – Greece, Greece – European Union, European Union and its surroundings.

Christy Petropoulou
May 2020


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Contested Borderscapes, 2017.

Image 1. Union of Lesvos with Greece November 9, 1912. Source : 
Image 2. Narratives of displaced peoples from Ayvalik and Mytilene via comics. Source: Soloup, 2019, Ayvalik, Kedros Publishing House.
Image 3 α & β. “Go back!” of the EAM on 24 December 1944 against British troops. Source: Panagiotis Koutskoudis, 73 years since the legendary “Go back!”, Ef.Syn. 06.01.2018, 12:14 
Image 4. An attempt to save history in 2010 a year after the closure of the Pagani detention center. Source