Trash container on the street between Moria and Olive Grove camps, 2018 It is three years since what my activist and anti-racist friends in Greece refuse to call the “refugee crisis” of 2015. It’s not a crisis, they say, but a failure of will on the part of the European Union and national governments.I’ve been coming to Molyvos, Lesbos, for extended periods since 2007. Back then refugees came in small numbers and I met people, who subsequently became friends, who worked with them. Even though many of my friends in the village have been at the forefront of the local volunteer effort in that part of the island for more than a decade, I have avoided writing about the situation in 2015, afraid I’ll fall prey to the voyeurism I see in so many representations of the issue. I first came to Lesbos at the invitation of Dimitris Krallis, a friend who is originally from the island. He asked me teach a course for Simon Fraser University’s Hellenic Studies field school in the village of Molyvos and I decided to teach a course on modern re-workings of ancient Greek literature. Prepared by my intellectual training for the Greece of the philhellenic imagination, I was intrigued and surprised by what I found on this island, and more generally, in Greece. I began to consider writing a book about the clash between space and intellectual predispositions shaped by the literary, philosophical and aesthetic canons of the West, in many ways,a book about the contradictions of Europe as idea and ideal. Then the global economic collapse occurred, followed by the Greek debt crisis, the clash between Syriza and the EU over the economic conditions being imposed on Greece, the sudden influx of far greater numbers of refugees and the subsequent EU-Turkey “deal”. The space I was writing about was changing in front of me. I decided to write also about the convergence of the effects of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism in Greece, read against the longer durée of philhellenism, colonial history, the development of the idea of Europe, and the restructuring of the Greek nation in the wake of the population transfers of “Greeks”(from Asia Minor) and “Turks”from mainland and island Greece that took place during the Balkan wars, the subsequent dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the fall of Smyrna in 1922. I am comparing and connecting these to the effects and the causes of the Partition of India. It turns out that there are indeed surprising and, to my mind, consequential connections. Initially the connection most striking to me was B.R. Ambedkar’s assertion, drawing upon the Greek, Turkish and Bulgarian population transfer that “the only way of solving the minorities problem lay in exchange of population.” That I he did so in a book somewhat ambiguously defending the creation of Pakistan, Pakistan or the Partition of India, makes it all the more significant—and troubling. I have discovered many others. Finally turning in earnest to this book, I can no longer avoid writing about the refugee situation, so I call Phevos Simeonides, a young friend in Athens and a member of Platanos, a self-organised initiative that welcomed refugees in Skala Sikamneas in 2015. Sikamneas, as it is sometimes called in local shorthand, is a village close to Molyvosand was also on the frontline of the refugee situation. Phevoshad introduced me to what was going on in Sikamneas and Athensin 2015 and 2016 and with him I had visited the self-organized collective, the Notara 26 squat, for refugees in Athens. Phevosis smart, mischievous,witty, wise and passionate; I have a learned a lot from him. When we speak on the phone now, I ask him to come to Molyvosso we can drive around the island and see the current conditions. He agrees and says he’s bringing a filmmaker,Olaf Hamelink,with him. Olaf will drive, as neither Phevos and I do,and he will see if he can get material for a short film he wants to make about the situation of refugees following the EU-Turkey deal. Olaf, too, turns out to be a fine young man, quiet, ethical, eager to learn. He also has a lovely capacity for listening, asking Phevos, the refugees he meets, and a lawyer for the NGO Advocates Abroad, Ariel Ricker whom we visit in Sikamneas, what stories need to be told. They are all thrilled with his question because it shows an attention to others often lacking in journalists and artists in pursuit of their vision. Phevos had reached out to Ariel before his arrival in Lesbos and arranged a meeting with her. She turns out to be a wonderful young woman, fierce, indignant, driven, and hilarious, armed with documents and information, and fearsomely organised. Both Ariel and Phevos spill over with stories of journalists asking them to freeze rescues on the beach, so they can get a good shot; of international volunteers wanting selfies with babies on the verge of hypothermia; of female volunteers from other parts of Europe having affairs with vulnerable young men, promising them commitment and homes only to abandon them, shattering lives already scattered – invasion by camera and through promise of love and home. The term “voluntourism” is common. People understand they need the help of volunteers and yet wish many were more thoughtful, less narcissistic in their efforts.Listening to my Greek friends over the past three years has been a lesson in the ethics of volunteering.Sitting at the table in a cafe across from the lovely little chapel of The Mermaid Madonna made famous by Stratis Myrivilis’ novel of the same name, listening to these three young people, all in their twenties, talk, I feel, in the midst of the stories of pain and madness and cruelty, a flicker of hope. The Mermaid Madonna Chapel in the little port at Skala Sikamneas Phevoshas also arranged for us to get into Moria, the famous detention centre about 20 minutes from Mytilene, in the south-east corner of the island.He wrote to authorities there, telling them I’m writing a book about the economic and refugee crises and we get in on the strength of my faculty ID.The first thing I notice upon the approach to the camp is the number of Africans.I knew that we hadn’t heard much about African refugees and migrants going through Greece, that it’s been turned into a mostly Syrian, Arab and Afghan affair, but I’m still unprepared for the number.The second thing is the barbed wire and jail-like surveillance structure.It’s not a particularly secure camp.The real prison, a Cameroonian refugee who approaches us as we walk around outside the camp tells Phevos and Olaf later, is the island itself, which the migrants are not meant to leave until their papers are processed.He introduces himself, offering to show us around the Olive Grove, the informal camp that has sprung up next to the Moria detention centre, which is full beyond capacity. He is wiry, muscled, middle-aged, with sharp, observant eyes.He takes my hand, raises it and says,“Enchanté”.I am charmed by his energy and vigour. Olaf and Phevosreturn to film in the Olive Grove later, having dropped me back in Molyvos. They are protective of my migraines and, to reassure me that he doesn’t mind driving me back, Olaf tells me gently that I’d be in the way. They learn our Cameroonian guide is a civil engineer who has hepatitis B and is applying for refugee status on grounds of health vulnerability.I do some research and find out that having hepatitis is considered quite a stigma in parts of Africa. I feel more ignorant than usual;I knew about HIV, but not this. I wonder what precise elements of racism play into the fact that we don’t hear about African refugees – how has this to all intents and purposes been turned into a Syrian event?I suspect that it is in part because the media needs newness and the war in Syria is new in a way that the slow immiseration of Africa, or even the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan are not.Olaf and Phevos also suggest that Africans are a more explicit reminder of the European colonial past; the Syrian catastrophe allows Europe to forget its own history.They are probably right, I think, impressed yet again by Europe’s memory with its fixation on the origins of its ostensibly superior civilization–philhellenism’s Greece, Jacob Burckhardt’s Renaissance and Italy—and the erasure of its extraordinary colonial violence and its participation in the disasters wrought in the Middle East.I wonder, though, why so many of my academic friends, ostensibly more attuned to such racial dynamics than the media and policy-makers, have forgotten about the Africans who comprise a significant part of the refugee influx? Looking around, I can’t stop wondering about the purpose of the barbed wire topping the fence. If it’s a deterrent, what, who is it deterring?People from arriving on the shores?People inside from leaving?Islanders from attacking?All of the above?Does it announce: you are not welcome here? Does it work?Is work what it’s about? I begin to feel the point is not practical but cathartic. If refuge and shelter are what you seek, we will meet you with wire and cages and tents and eventually, if you are lucky,ISO boxes,(shipping containers re-purposed to house people).We will feel better for having built our unwelcome into the perimeter of your refuge and your movement will be permanently embodied in the impermanence of the tent and the containers.Permanent camps now dot the world, an absurd outgrowth of the crisis of citizenship and statelessness created by thatby-product of post-Westphalian peace, the nation state. The oxymoronic is the norm. Papers. It’s all about papers and processing.Sit in a tent; wait to be processed so your life can begin again.But life is here, too.Is it really impossible to build buildings? I don’t think it’s just about money – surely someone gets paid to make tents and containers. Disaster has its own parlance and, of course, its own economy and everyone talks about ISO boxes,which are big business, I’m told.Humanity will die (is dying) not in our more explicit cruelties but caught between unbridled extraction, bureaucratic managerialism and the accountant’s number-crunching parsimony.That is, of course, the neoliberal dispensation.Austerity in the service of some unspecified objective – a kind of moral endgame, like a Protestant housewife’s virtue in an 18th-century conduct book. Not far fetched, the analogy, given that the language of household thrift was aimed at an economically besieged Greece by German tabloids during the debt confrontation.As I write this, back in New York, trying to collect my thoughts, I see a story about the IMF’s complicity in the economic “immolation” of Greece. The Daily Telegraph’s headline is probably inspired by the fires outside Athens, but it’s not overstating the devastation wrought by the troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. A section of the fence at Moria In the photograph above, a plastic bag is caught on the barbed wire.A metaphor, I think, of this age of surveillance and incarceration and ecological disaster. As climate change accelerates the uninhabitability of large parts of the world, we are likely to see more such situations.Europe is already gearing up to raise the walls of its fortress higher by increasing its network of detention centres across Africa and around the Mediterranean, while the plastic bags continue to accumulate and the culture of extraction and consumption shows no signs of abating.The fence, I am beginning to think, is also to protect the “West”from knowledge of the consequences of its (our—I live in the U.S. after all) unbridled desires. Earlier on, we had stopped at a dump for abandoned boats and lifevests; Phevos calls it the graveyard of lifevests. The orange ones, which are better and cost more, usually belonged to the Syrians he tells me.Then he shows us the materials the traffickers use to pad the vests and the ones they sell for children that don’t even attempt to simulate authenticity. When I send this essay to him, he writes back that I didn’t quite get it right in the sentences above, it’s important that I realise that “all types of life jackets were fake. So the orange ones were more expensive because they looked like better ones. Not because they were”.“On a practical note though,” he writes, “this allowed us to know in advance what type of translator we would need for the upcoming boat in many cases, especially when Afghans (blue/red life vests) and Syrians (orange) were constituting the majority of the arrivals.” The dump for life-vests; material used to pad life-vests; the ones sold to children Stories of the traffickers’ viciousness are legion.People are shot at to force them onto boats submerged with the weight of too many bodies. Thousands of children have been abducted and sold into forced labour or sexual slavery in Europe.The mound of life vests is a strange symbol of human desperation, ecological disaster, exploitation and a gratuitous, thieving cruelty. A small protest about the quality of the food is taking place as we enter Moria camp.Our guide/handler tells us that there are about 8,500 people in the camp – over 6,000 more than its supposed capacity– and despite the deal with Turkey (really just a payoff to hold back the migrants), about a 100 people are still arriving a day.There are little shops, wire walls separating single men from unaccompanied minors and families, processing centres, a few air-conditioned ISO boxes for staff, ISO boxes for toilets, ISO boxes to live in for the migrants lucky enough to get them, some for showers, an abundance of tents with barely a foot of space between them. As we walk past a line of shipping containers, a man calls out playfully in Urdu,“Hey, Pakistani, tumharanaamkyahai?”What’s your name?I turn around and ask, “Where are you from?”Somalia, he says.“What’s your name?” I ask.“Mohammed,” he says. He sings a line from a Bollywood song, brash and flirtatious and young.I laugh. He’s hanging out on a bench with a couple of young Arab men.I wish I could stay and chat and ask them how they are doing and how they got here, but our guide has other ideas.A tall, dignified looking, middle-aged Pakistani man looks at me cautiously.He tells me he’s from Gujrat and looks very impressed when I say I live in the States – Trump’s America as the promised land, I think, and try not to dwell on the thought. “Chai, pani?” he asks, inviting us to his tent. Tea,water?I refuse.We have to move on.I’m still guilty at having to refuse hospitality offered in such unhospitable conditions. We get chatting to a bunch of Ghanaian men.One tells us he hates the journalists who come and take pictures of them. “In the night!” he says, perhaps to intensify the impact of his complaint as he highlights the furtiveness and secrecy of the heist.They used to think a portrait could steal your soul, I remember fancifully, but his concern is more immediate.He’s fleeing his political opponents and he doesn’t want them to find out where he is.The complaint against cameras is ubiquitous.No one wants them out and pointing at them.People become aggressive and I am reminded of how much I disliked Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi’s film about Lampedusa and another several decade old and ongoing refugee “crisis”.How does one justify the scenes in which the camera lingers on a man being rescued on to the coast guard’s boat who sits in a chair, simultaneously gesturing and vacant, stripped down to his shorts, or on the woman who has just learned of the death of a companion, or on others lying prostrate on the floor?Do we really need to zoom in on their despair in order to sympathise with people who are too traumatised and exposed, too legally vulnerable to refuse? Is sympathy what it’s about?When it comes to racialised people,is there only one choice: between monstrosity and abjection?Is it even a choice? The Ghanaian man is chatty and wants to tell us more, but our handler is getting restive so the Phevos and Olaf get his cell-phone number and we leave. On the street that divides Moria from the Olive Grove, I exchange salaams and smiles with two women, who tell me they are Syrian.I wish yet again that I spoke Arabic.Two more are sitting by the fence, which gives the illusion you can lean against it, watching a gorgeous little girl play.I ask her mother’s permission to pick her up.The little girl wriggles and reaches in all directions; her mother smiles.I put her down, reluctant to go, frustrated by the casual privilege of my in(ex)cursion. On the way to the car, I look out over the tents of the Olive Grove at a distant bay.The water is an intense and beautiful mid-summer blue. A cruise ship dots the horizon.The irony is irresistible.I take a picture but the ship is barely visible.Refrain adjusted, the Village People song “Go West” runs through my head as I write: “Go where? Life is peaceful there/ Go where?Lots of open air/Go Where? To begin anew.”Some of my acquaintances here are uncomfortable when I say this, determined to imagine the West as a site of redemption, even as the current moment makes even more explicit its constitutive racism. Overlooking the Olive Grove camp Back in Molyvos, I go to the Captain’s Table, a restaurant owned by Melinda and Theo, in the village’s exquisite, tiny harbour, which isone of the bases for those working with refugees on the island. Melinda continues to be a crucial part of the work. In June 2015 when I was in Molyvos, before the refugee situation had caught the world’s attention and the young SYRIZA government was focused on the brutal economic “negotiations” with the EU and the “institutions,”Melinda was one of the chief organisers of the volunteers, trying to run her business while waking up in the middle of the night to meet refugee boats.The skills that have made her so good at running the restaurant translated into a formidable ability to organise the reception of the refugees.They also made her unpopular with some of the villagers– because she is a woman, because she is still considered an outsider even though she came to the village at the age of three when her mother married a local, because of theirenvy at her success,because of their hostility to the refugees. My respect for her grew as I watched her juggle an impossible situation, trying to keep the harbour picturesque in order to keep alive the tourism that is the village’s primary source of income.Later, when the number of boats arriving escalated unimaginably, overwhelmed and needing assistance, she turned her operation into an NGO called Starfish.Three years later, although the number of arrivals have decreased, there are still too many people stuck on the island and Starfish still works with informal camps like Pikpa (an open refugee camp run by Lesbos Solidarity) and centres like Moria. Despite being hurt by what hostile villagers say about her,she remains driven and determined and I respect her more and more. In Molyvos Harbour; a view from a street above Melinda has a special relationship with some of the tourists who are regular visitors tothe village. Before the international groups arrived that summer, those contacts were invaluable. They contributed supplies for the refugees and helped get the word out in the international media.Melinda wouldn’t take money, so the tourists and locals wanting to help bought supplies from a list at the grocery store – juice, bread and meat for sandwiches (no pork), less perishable and easily portable fruit (apples, bananas), which would then be delivered to the rooms where supplies were kept and prepared at the end of the day. Some refugees would stay for a night or so on a little plot behind the harbour before proceeding to Mytilene to register their arrival. I remember the night I sat with friends who were pleased to have put up tents on the plot. A policeman joined us, trying to figure out how to help despite an anti-smuggling law that prevented even taxis from giving rides to the refugees.As a result, the refugees had to walk the 60 or so kilometres to Mytilene to be processed, so they could continue their journey north.People helped,though, breaking the law. The policeman wanted the law changed, embarrassed to be its enforcer. Tents behind Molyvos Harbour Much has changed since that summer night in 2015: the law was rescinded not long after that conversation;the number of boats arriving escalated unimaginably;international NGOs arrived; the EU-Turkey deal came into effectless than a year later;boats from the EU’s border and coastguard agency Frontex started to patrol the waters;and the doorway to the rest of Europe effectively closed. But detention centres continue to overflow. Tourism is finally up in Molyvos, I’m told, but many friends are still struggling as more and more tourists opt for“all-inclusive” deals at hotels that have changed their Greek names to things like the Belvedere, places where they don’t really have to encounter the specificities of this exquisite, wonderfully distinct place, satisfying our endless appetite for sameness masquerading as“choice”.Some in the village are inclined to cater to this:a blue bright “choo-choo” train as my friends call it, straight out of a theme park, jingles its way down the harbour road, taking people to Petra, the neighbouring village; there is talk of building high-end spa hotels.Others think it’s a bad choice for a small place, far from Athens, which once drew artists and writers and has always marketed itself as offering an alternative kind of tourism, that the very thing they love about the place will disappear if they try to meet the demands of that kind ofaesthetic—homogenised, Disneyfied. A friend who loves Cavafy and runs a small grocery store with her husband intimates things are bad but says she won’t tell me details as I’m here to relax.They are invested in this idea, my friends, determined to provide beauty and rest to the visitors.It’s difficult to persuade them that I have come to work, but when I say,“to write”, then it’s OK. “Ah… for inspiration,” they say and nod.“Good. It’s beautiful here”—pleased I am getting what they have to offer. To see them, too, I tell them. I have many friends here and I miss them.Another friend, who works with the women’s co-op tells me she thinks some people may not make it through the winter as their finances are finally at breaking point.I have seen people become increasingly quiet since 2008, stoic, hurting. It will take a serious and sustained uptick in business for people to recover from the cumulative losses of the past decade.These two friends tend not to complain,and usually mock what they consider a culture of drama and complaint in the village. I worry and hope things will get better, suspending my academic, anti-neoliberal brain. To end, then.One day in June 2015, trying to be useful, I helped with the distribution of food in the plot behind the harbour. It was a group of Syrians. I said salaam.A young man asked, Muslim?I nodded.He smiled. It was Ramadan.He took his supplies and indicated that he wasn’t fasting.I shook my head:Me neither. He managed to joke with gestures, signs and broken bits of English that we were the bad ones, who smoke and drink.He was protective of the people fasting, who gestured to me that he would handle things for them.He took supplies so he could give them the food later to break their fast. He seemed to want to kid around with me and his friends, excited by his adventure and the arrival in “Europe;” Greece is invisible, merely a conduit to the “real” Europe of the North. Some refugees ask what country they are in when they arrive.The news from Mytilene was that conditions were bad: people were sprawled on streets, waiting; toilets were overflowing.Someone reported that at a meeting, the mayor spent most of the time on the phone to Athens, yelling that he had no access to funds to fix the toilets because the banks were closed as a result of the economic confrontation between Greece and the EU, which was determined to make the Syriza government capitulate completely. I tried half-heartedly to indicate to the young man that things might get rough; unable to pierce his euphoria, not sure I should. Next evening, a bus was arranged to take the new arrivals to Mytilene. They formed a line in the harbour, which was lit like something out of a holiday carnival. The tourists clapped as the little procession walked to the bus.Some of the refugees waved.I wondered how they felt about the display.Musicians were playing rebetikaat one of the restaurants down the very short way.The young man stopped, leaning against a pole holding up an awning, saw me and smiled. Then he seemed to forget there was anyone there—transported, a little wistful. It was a fleeting moment of rest and beauty and possibility.I looked away so he could have that moment and continue to hope the rest of his journey is bearable.