The fenced eyes of the port

The EU-Turkey Agreement, signed in March 2016, radically changed everyone’s relationship to the port. In the following years, the painted eyes (see post:  the eyes of the port and their transformations) saw  many refugees making desperate attempts to illegally escape the island, and, more than a few, violent deportations to Turkey; as well as arrests and returns to, the now closed, reception and detention centre in Moria.

The port closed for non-travellers and no one could wait for the ship. This also caused resentment among the island’s permanent residents. For instance, one middle-aged woman told us: “Our walk on the waterfront used to end  at the port where we had often bidden adieu to our friends and family. Now this is not allowed. At first, they told us it would be temporary, but the emergency became permanent.  Slowly, we got used to it.” Also, the frequent controls (with dogs at the entrance of the port) caused distress to young people. “Now we think twice about whether to make the return voyage to the island by ship. The humiliation of our personality is severe ,” a university student declared. Similar testimonies were expressed by other permanent residents of the island.

Finally, on 25 February 2020, the port became known around the world when police officers (from the Units for Rehabilitation of Order) exited the ship in formation.  Their  mission was twofold: to occupy the area of Kavakli-Karava and to install on-site the necessary machines for constructing the first big prison on the island that would function as a refugee detention centre.

The clash with residents in Kavakli (Karava and Diavolorema) on 25 and 26 February, , who came from differentpolitical perspectives, was huge. On 27 February, the police squads were forced to flee[1]; the incident was compared to the historic “go home” of 1944[2]. However, in the following period, an organised fascist attack on solidarity structures, on refugees and solidarians unfolded in front of the port’s eyes. In response, a new wave of antifascist demonstrations broke out[3]. Immediately after, the port fell quiet as the city came under the terror of coronavirus (see post).

In April 2020, approximately 20,000 refugees were confined and abandoned in the area of Moria[4]; the ship linerswere reduced and the port fell silent. The eyes, now faded, fenced, and marginalised, are no longer newsworthy; they are but a faded memory. Their creators remain unknown to the wider public. Entry to the port is no longer allowed, except when holding a ticket for the ferry. The old rituals of farewell and welcoming have faded into history. Today, the city of thresholds (Stavrides, 2009) is becoming more and more a city of barriers, of surveillance and control. The port constitutes the preeminent space where this process is performed. From the habitus of openness that had been created through struggles (Petropoulou, 2019), we entered decisively into that of enclosure.

The photograph was taken on 14 March, immediately after the departure of the Rhodes navy tanker, which was transporting refugees trapped in the port (following a government decision not to accept other asylum applications). The tanker sailed for northern Greece with the aim of temporarily relocating the refugees on board in a place, essentially, of exile. The same day, an antifacist demonstration was taking place in the city of Mytilene and measures to deal with COVID-19 were initiated.

Christy Petropoulou
May 2020

[1] The band “Iperastiki” [a play on words between “long-distance”–as in phone calls–and “transients”, translator’s note] which was born out of the the struggles of Keratea and Halyvourgiki Inc. in Attica, was inspire to write a song: “Let’s go to the fires now, to the roadblocks, brothers, / it’s fun for the bosses, but it’s anger for us. / In the world of capital we are also strangers, / refugees and immigrants are the damned of the earth.”

[2] Kalargalis, A., 2020


[4] See the statements of the Antiracist Observatory of the University of the Aegean and the Observatory of the Refugee and Migration Crisis in the Aegean.


Antiracist Observatory UOA, 2020.

Kalargalis, Α., 2020. Blokia Mytilene, 1944-2020 26.02.2020

Παρατηρητήριο Προσφυγικής και Μεταναστευτικής Κρίσης στο Αιγαίο, 2020. 

Petropoulou, C., 2019. Can the poetic of commoning change the habitus? Reflexions from Lesvos with a Latin American perspective of urban – regional social movements. In: D. Gouvias, C. Petropoulou. & C. Tsavdaroglou (2019). Contested Borderscapes. Transnational Geographies vis-à-vis Fortress Europe (pp.125-138) Mytilene: Research Gorup Invisibles Cities.

Stavridis S., 2009. Από την πόλη οθόνη στην πόλη σκηνή. Ελληνικά Γράμματα. 

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

Υπεραστικοί, 2020. Τραγούδι εμπνευσμένο από τη μάχη του Καράβα ενάντια στην δημιουργία φυλακής προσφύγων.

1. Banner at the port on the day the EU-Turkey Agreement went into force (Photograph from the C.P. Archive)
2. Mural at the port in 2015 and slogans drawn over it, after the EU-Turkey Agreement, in March 2016 (Photograph from the C.P. Archive)
3. The riot police at the port (, 25 February 2020)
4. The fenced eyes of the port by Christy Petropoulou, 14 March 2020