Mind Mapping ‘Refugee Crisis & Solidarity’

If we consider maps to be representations of known places and territories, which are accompanied by specific narratives -spatial territory, sovereignty, control, etc.- then we could suggest the reorientation of such maps through collective new mapping processes, not only of space but also of the other representations that are formed in relation to it.

The mapping workshops in the present research project were addressed to students and other members of the community of the University of the Aegean; to a more general public concerned with issues of forced displacement and migration whether as researchers, as professionals, and/or as volunteers; as well as migrants and refugees living on the island of Lesvos.

In this context, the workshop “Mappings and representations of the ‘Others’: The example of Lesvos toward an antiracist geography” took place during the second conference of the School of Social Sciences at the University of the Aegean, entitled “Social Sciences today: Dilemmas and prospects beyond the crisis” and held in Mytilene in June 2019. At this particular workshop, our aim was to ‘map’ anew places and populations through a process of renegotiation initially of space and then of stereotypical distances that emerge from the everyday lived division between the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other.’

Therefore, we addressed an intercultural group from various areas of the world who were on the island for completely different reasons, asking them to represent how they perceive the image of borders, of migration, and of Lesvos, as follows:

Map – represent the so-called “refugee crisis” and solidarity on the island of Lesvos in whichever way you want, as you imagine them.

We explained that we are preparing an Atlas, which will include untold stories, collective memories, and everyday experiences of local populations, which encounter the corresponding ones of migrant and refugee populations, and which, together, now, create visible and invisible actions and claims. We asked to include their narratives through their own mappings.

Some conference attendees dealt with scales or routes. For instance, in one representation various scales were placed between those who travel on foot, in cars, or in boats, in comparison with those who travel by plane from Syria to western Europe.

Image: Mappings and representations of the so-called “refugee crisis” and of solidarity on the island of Lesvos. Mapped conceptual representation by conference attendee/visitor to the island.
Photograph by Chryssanthi (Christy) Petropoulou

In this particular representation, the origin of the person on the move appears on the left and his destination appears on the right, in a diametrically opposed direction with the location of places on the dominant world geographical map (with North on top), and which also indicates the direction of writing in Indo-European languages and not the direction of writing in  Arabic. 

In another representation, the island of Lesvos was located with a dot on a world map; in another as a sign on a route that becomes increasingly uphill; while in others only abstract ideas, objects, and non-spatial words were presented. Only in some representations did images appear that refer to the concept of solidarity. From the above, we can see that space and time have different meanings according to the knowledge, experiences, and stereotypical references of each individual.

Naya Tselepi
December 2019