The Unknown Migrant

This is a symbolic monument for the unknown migrant made by an unknown artist in Herakleion, Crete in order to commemorate the people who lost their lives in the Aegean Sea. The tag reads: to the unknown migrant, who died on the borders and due to slavery. This symbolic monument resembles the heroic representations of the national heroes and the unknown soldiers ‘who died fighting for the liberation of their country’ (sic). Perhaps this symbolic monument came at a time where the militarisation of the management of migrant and refugee flows made the aqueous border between Greece and Turkey one of the more dangerous in the world.   The militarization of the refugee crisis has involved the deployment of NATO in the Aegean and across the Mediterranean. It has extended the powers and scope of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, and the institution of a “standing corps” “to ensure a coherent management of the external borders and to be able to respond to situations of crisis a standing corps will be set up, with up to 10 000 operational staff by 2027.”[1] It has interpenetrated the national criminal legal systems with EU police and asylum agencies. It has outsourced the functions of the external borders not only through bilateral agreements (for instance, with Libya and Turkey) but also by weaponising the sea. This undeclared war through the practice of the militarisation of the sea[2] has made the Mediterranean and the Aegean crossings as lethal as possible, turning it into one of the deadliest borders on earth.[3]

Yet, even this quantification of deaths reflects what Martina Tazzioli has termed the  “politics of counting.” Here, efforts driven by solidarity with refugees that seek to make the deadly consequences of border regimes visible face a quandary: numbers are used to represent the extent, scale, or scope of human suffering and loss; yet, quantification is an intense form of depersonalisation, homogenisation, and dehumanisation. It is not incidental that, “[r]eflecting upon border deaths, the first image that comes to mind for many of us is a list of numbers”. In this light, perhaps this monument dedicated to the unknown migrant focuses on the militarisation of the refugee crisis, on the heroic subjects of this crisis whose deaths we need to remember. Even so, it becomes very difficult to avoid dehumanisation and depersonalisation when we refer to people with the label that they are given by the states and the border regimes that killed them (migrant, refugees, asylum seekers, etc).


Myrto Tsilimpounidi

[1] Council of the European Union, “Press Release: European Border and Coast Guard: Council Agrees Negotiating Position,” February 20, 2019, european-border-and-coast-guard-council-agrees-negotiating-position/

[2] “Migrants do not simply die in the sea, but through the strategic use of the sea . . . the Mediter- ranean has been made to kill through contemporary forms of militarized governmentality of mobility which inflict deaths by first creating dangerous conditions of crossing, and then abstaining from assisting those in peril.” Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani, “Liquid Traces: Investigating the Deaths of Migrants at the EU’s Maritime Border,” in Drift (New York: Nightboat, 2014), 658–59.

[3] International Organisation for Migration, “Four Decades of Cross-Mediterranean Undocumented Migration to Europe: A Review of the Evidence,” 2017, -mediterranean-undocumented-migration-europe-review-evidence.


Anna Carastathis, Aila Spathopoulou, and Myrto Tsilimpounidi, “Crisis, What Crisis? Immigrants, Refugees, and Invisible Struggles,” Refugee: Canada’s Journal on Refugees 34, no. 1 (2018): 29–38.

Martina Tazzioli, “The Politics of Counting and the Scene of Rescue.” Radical Philosophy 192 (July/August): 2015, 3, 5.

Monument of the unknown migrant in Herakleion, Crete