The eyes of the port and their transformations

In April 2015, the port of Mytilene welcomed hundreds of refugees who came from the wars in Syria and Afghanistan. At the beginning, the collectives in solidarity managed to open its abandoned swimming pool, which, despite having serious problems with leakage in bad weather conditions, hosted more than 300 Syrians and Afghans who truly shared without discriminations the food and tea that residents and shopkeepers of the area offered them. In the days that followed, they were quickly registered and they left for Pireaus and other European countries. The refugees who passed through the port during this period remember it in the best light: “Since I had left my house, which was being destroyed by bombing, we hadn’t experienced such a reception anywhere,” said a former resident of Aleppo (Syria) in 2015.

Immediately following, and until September, the port turned into a harbour of agony, since it was flooded by thousands of refugees who waited to be registered and to leave with the few ships on the line (more than 500,000 passed through in 2015). The refugee registration service installed itself there, which, amidst a fluid political situation in Greece (the transition from a rightwing to a left government), was attempting to hasten the procedures of simple registration upon entry, since the majority wanted to seek asylum in western and northern European countries.

During this period, refugees were forced to live in tents or with no cover on the streets and in nearby parks; the port authorities refused to install toilets and shades, something which, finally, the municipality took charge of, after pressure from residents. “The port is, for us, the passage to Europe, and waiting is the torture that we have to endure, under the sun, for that purpose,” said a gentleman from Afghanistan. “The port is the place where we all of us who fled the wars share our dreams and hope for another life,” said a lady from Syria. “We’re not leaving here because, here, we feel very close to our goal; if we leave, someone will take our turn,” says a young man from Afghanistan. The city’s residents regard the fact as a continuation of the wars in Syria and Afghanistan.[1]

In this period, two young people draw two eyes with a greek flag that welcome refugees. The mural was made on the building of the former agricultural cooperative in the port of Mytilene (see post: contested border in port of Mytilene). The building was abandoned at the beginning of the twenty first century during the crisis.

Immediately after the opening of the Reception and Identification Centre in the Moria hotspot[2], the port of Mytilene was decongested; for a small period of time, it became a place of pleasant waiting for the coveted trip. These eyes were inhabited by refugees, became known by known photojournalists[3]–but then, they were fenced off. The mandatory accreditation of solidarians[4] led to the exclusion of non institutionalised movements. Οι υποχρεωτικές διαπιστεύσεις των αλληλέγγυων οδήγησαν στον αποκλεισμό των μη θεσμοθετημένων κινήσεων. The photograph of the eyes was used again by the Platanos collective (see post) in condemnation of this discrimination. This constituted the next period of the port.[5]

A photograph that focusses exclusively on the eyes was used in 2019 as the cover image of the book “PIKPA” by Lesvos Solidarity.

Amidst the quarantine due to coronavirus, at a moment when in the rest of Greece access to the urban beaches and sea were closed for urban dwellers, the port opened its gates for a few days and residents were able to regain their lost walk in the jetty. However, the fencing of this public space is now permanent (See post: the fenced eyes of the port).

Christy Petropoulou

[1] Rontos, K., Nagopoulos, N., & Panagos, N., 2019 και Papachristou I., Pertropoulou C., Katseniou E., & Rosas Casals, M., 2019.

[2] Tsianos, V., & Kuster, B., 2016.

[3] Aris Messinis AFP ––greek-islands-the-greeks.jpg

[4] Solidarity Platanos, 2016. Σχετικά με το κυνήγι διαπιστεύσεων στη Λέσβο

[5] Petropoulou, C., 2017.


Mitchell, K., & Sparke, M., 2018. Hotspot geopolitics versus geosocial solidarity: Contending constructions of safe space for migrants in Europe. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 0(0) 1–21. Doi: 10.1177/0263775818793647

Papachristou I., Pertropoulou C., Katseniou E., & Rosas Casals, M., 2019. Palabras sobre los refugiados: un análisis, mediante redes semánticas, de la construcción social de percepciones de los habitantes de Mitilene en función de los eco-paisajes. Recherche report Retrieved from

Petropoulou, C., 2017. “De la solidaridad humana a la restricción, la punición et la segregación socio-espacial. Los nuevos llegados (migrantes / refugiados) y la bienvenida en Grecia como proceso glocal. El ejemplo de Mytilene”. In: Thematic Conference IGU Geographies for Peace. La Paz, 23-25 April. Oral presentation. 

Rontos, K., Nagopoulos, N., & Panagos, N., 2019. The refugee immigrant phenomenon in Lesvos of 2016 and the local Societies. Attitudes and behaviors. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Solidarity Platanos, 2016. Σχετικά με το κυνήγι διαπιστεύσεων στη Λέσβο

Tsianos, V., & Kuster, B. (2016). Against the panoptical Realism. An ethnography of the Hotspot Lesvos [Retrieved from:].

Eyes in the port Transformation 1 Efimerida ton Sintakton 24/10/2015 eurokinisi/Stelios Misinas
Eyes in the port Transformation 2 Solidarity team platanos/ 21/1/2016
Eyes in the port Transformation 3 PIKPA photo book 3/5/2019
Eyes in the port Transformation 4 Christy Petropoulou 19/4/2020