On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece

On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece

On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece

On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece


Greece has shouldered a heavy burden in the global economic crisis, struggling with political and financial insecurity. Greece has also the most porous external border of the European Union, tasked with ensuring that the EU's boundaries are both "secure and humanitarian" and hosting enormous numbers of migrants and asylum seekers who arrive by land and sea. The recent leadership and fiscal crises have led to a breakdown of legal entitlements for both Greek citizens and those seeking refuge within the country's borders.

On the Doorstep of Europe is an ethnographic study of the asylum system in Greece, tracing the ways asylum seekers, bureaucrats, and service providers attempt to navigate the dilemmas of governance, ethics, knowledge, and sociability that emerge through this legal process. Centering on the work of an asylum advocacy NGO in Athens, Heath Cabot explores how workers and clients grapple with predicaments endemic to Europeanization and rights-based protection. Drawing inspiration from classical Greek tragedy to highlight both the transformative potential and the violence of law, Cabot charts the structural violence effected through European governance, rights frameworks, and humanitarian intervention while also exploring how Athenian society is being remade from the inside out. She shows how, in contemporary Greece, relationships between insiders and outsiders are radically reconfigured through legal, political, and economic crises.

In addition to providing a textured, on-the-ground account of the fraught context of asylum and immigration in Europe's borderlands, On the Doorstep of Europe highlights the unpredictable and transformative ways in which those in host nations navigate legal and political violence, even in contexts of inexorable duress and inequality.


This book is about the regime of political asylum in Greece and how asylum seekers, aid workers, and bureaucrats alike have sought to make sense of the dilemmas, often insurmountable, posed by both human rights law and European governance. It has been almost ten years since I first began research on this project. My first research trip to Athens was during the lead-up to the Olympics of 2004, when the city had been polished, cleaned, and marketed as a revived European capital. Athens now faces economic instability and increasing poverty, often brutal policing, and race-related violence. The story of asylum in Greece precedes the inception of the current Greek financial crisis, but many of the themes are similar, including Greece’s marginality in Europe, the disciplining forces of Europeanization, and the ways persons and communities navigate seemingly impossible situations. I believe there are important lessons to be learned through what I will later describe as the “tragedies” of asylum in Greece: about ethical life, the work of judgment, and new possibilities for belonging and citizenship in the wake of political violence. There is also something ineffable but equally crucial that may be found: the haunting, but often powerful ways in which people come together, perhaps only fleetingly, to create attachments, intimacies, and even justice.

Three particular dilemmas of writing deserve mention at the outset. The first is the problem of how to take appropriate account of the Greek sovereign debt crisis without making it the assumed telos of all the events I convey in this book. The institutional instabilities and sociopolitical ferments that have emerged in Greece since 2008 have demanded that Greek, European, and international publics rethink the impacts of Europeanization on both migration management and fiscal policies. Here I show that while the financial crisis was certainly not predictable, it invokes and even replicates longstanding discourses and patterns of governance, which have been similarly problematic in the arenas of immigration and asylum. I also hope that my analysis . . .

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