Stealing from Migrants

Different evocations of “crisis” create distinct categories that in turn evoke certain social reactions. Post-2008, Greece became the epicentre of the “financial crisis”; simultaneously, since 2015 with the advent of the “refugee crisis,” it became the “hotspot of Europe.” As Anna Carastathis explains by the end of the summer of 2015, Greece was experiencing the schema of ‘nesting crises’. By ‘nesting crises’ Carastathis is referring to the dominant state discourse of a crisis within a crisis given temporal and spatial priority to the “sovereign debt crisis” while the refugee crisis is constructed as a sudden problem first emerging in the summer of 2015. This renders invisible its prehistory, namely the criminalised migration of people into the Greek territory and the relegation of long-standing migrant and refugee communities in Greece to the socio-legal margins of the society. Intersecting the discursive constructs of the financial crisis and the refugee crisis, we are able to see how they are constituted through a process of mutual exclusion and prototypically: the prototypical subject of the financial crisis is the Greek citizen, while that of the refugee crisis is the displaced Syrian family who deserve international protection.

Photo 1: Hey boss, I am stealing from Migrants, Mytilene, 2017
Photo 2: …Migrants, Mytilene, 2019


In this era of the nesting crises, Lesvos has witnessed its economy flourishing. From the many stories and testimonies of charging 5 euros to migrants and refugees for a bottle of water which price is set at 50cents in Greece, to locals keeping the boats in which the refugees arrived on the shores in exchange for dry clothes and a blanket, this growing economy is build on human suffering. Sebastian Leape informs us that European funding alone in 2017 worked out at 7,000 euros for every refugee living in Greece. If we add to that works of the NGOs, solidarians, journalists, researchers, and photographers arriving in Lesvos to document the ‘refugee crisis’ we have only a partial understanding of how the crisis boosted the local economy, rapidly increased housing prices in Mytilene, supported the local stores, and provided a new life for the island. Image 1 was shot in 2017 at a central location in the city of Mytilene and the tag reads ‘Hey boss, I am stealing from migrants’. Image 2 was shot at exactly the same place in 2019, the wall is now painted over and the remaining tag reads ‘migrants’.


Myrto Tsilimpounidi
December 2019


Carastathis, Anna (2018) “Nesting Crises.” Women’s Studies International Forum 68: 142-148.

Carastathis, Anna – Spathopoulou, Aila –  Tsilimpounidi, Myrto (2018) ‘Crisis, what crisis? Immigrants, Refugees, and Invisible Struggles’, Refugee: Canada’s Journal on Refugees. Vol. 34 (1): 29-38. 

Leape, Sebastian (2018) ‘Greece has the means to helo refugees on Lesbos – but does it have the will?’, The Guardian,

Photos by Myrto Tsilimpounidi