The eyes of the port and their transformations

In April 2015, the port of Mytilene welcomed hundreds of refugees who fled the wars in Syria and Afghanistan. At first, the collectives in solidarity managed to open the abandoned swimming pool. Despite having serious problems with leakage during bad weather conditions, the pool hosted more than 300 Syrians and Afghans whoshared, without discriminations the food and tea, that local residents and shopkeepers offered them. In the following days, therefugees were quickly registered and, then, 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 left my house, which was being destroyed by bombings, we haven’t experienced such a reception anywhere,” said a former resident of Aleppo (Syria) in 2015.

Immediately after, and until September, the port turned into a harbour of agony, since it was flooded by thousands of refugees who waited to be registered in order to leave with the few liner ships (more than 500,000 passed through in 2015). The refugee registration service was set up there and — amid a fluid political situation in Greece (transition from a right-wing to a left-wing government) — was attempting to speed up the  entry registration procedures, as the majority  of refugees wanted to seek asylum in western and northern European countries.

During this period, refugees were forced to live in tents or on the streets and in nearby parks with no cover. The Port Authority refused to install toilets and sheds, and, eventually, the municipality took care of it, after pressure from localresidents. “The port is, for us, the passage to Europe, and waiting is the torture that we have to endure  under the sunto fulfill that purpose,” said a gentleman from Afghanistan. “The port is the place where all of us, who fled the wars,share our dreams and hope for another life,” said a lady from Syria. “We’re not leaving because, here, we feel very close to our goal; if we leave, someone will take our turn,” says a young man from Afghanistan. The town’s residents regard this 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 anticipation for the coveted trip. These eyes were inhabited by refugees, became known by famous photojournalists[3]–but later, they were fenced. The mandatory accreditation of solidarians[4] led to the exclusion of non-institutionalised movements.. The photograph taken 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, focusing exclusively on the eyes, was used in 2019 as the cover image of the book “PIKPA” by Lesvos Solidarity; in an effort to promote their intercultural perspective.

Amid the quarantine due to coronavirus, at a moment when access to the urban beaches and sea were closed for locals in other parts of Greece, 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
May 2020

[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