Enter the Refugee ‘Hot Spot’

  • March 12, 2016

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Borders & Beyond

Locals on the Greek island of Lesbos, which has been at the front-line of the refugee crisis, discuss what they think the new term “hot spot” means.

It is only too easy to be caught into the hustle and bustle of updates on the unfolding crisis: to be dragged into closely following minute-by-minute trackers from one “crucial summit” after another, in reading into a country’s swagging around, into demands raised and dropped, interim agreements reached and breached: heck, to even be caught into trying to understand what the lunch menu of attendants might have to do with this all.

It is only too easy, in other words, to read this crisis and its management as an endlessly consecutive, theater-like play of political actors entering the spotlight to decide the fate of those people dismissed as “flows”. Yet while this is all unfolding, and keeping well away from the spotlight for now, a crucial process plays out: the process of establishing and rendering operative the so-called ‘hot spots’ – including in the Greek island of Lesbos, which is where this brief video was filmed.

Long gone are the early, chaotic days of this crisis: up until late summer 2015, the images from the registration and accommodation centers in Lesbos resembled much of the informal, slum-like housing to be found in so many other parts of this world. And today? The “hot spot” concept has kicked in with force. Sure, a “hot spot” means money pouring in and with this come major improvements: immaculate benches, paved streets, well-constructed containers, electricity and — ironically — internet hot spots for everyone passing through. The entire humanitarian plexus has come out in full force, the outpouring of emergency funds is in full play: this is the visible, the material and physical construction of the “hot spot”. But there is another, much more crucial, cognitive side to it all.

More than the sum of all barbed wire, sleeping containers, NGO tents and info-stalls, the “hot spot” is a concept, it is an idea: the idea that any EU area, territory, segment or whole, can be declared as such — so long as this comes in response to any perceived “crisis” or “emergency”. And here again, it would be tempting and only too easy to speak of an Agamben-like introduction of a “state of emergency”, a dystopian state of exception that annihilates the conventions, the social contracts and the civil rights of the past in favor of a claustrophobic, totalitarian imposition of sovereign power, an endless state force. But the “hot spot” is not that, either.

The “hot spot” is a social laboratory: a territory previously grounded in an EU member state that now cognitively shifts into the direct jurisdiction of all those EU institutional and administrative mechanisms that may come to constitute the future European super-state: policing (who is allowed to come in), judiciary (who is allowed to stay), and welfare (under what conditions) are all tested out here. The hot spot is a historical first, the founding stone in the establishment of European Union territory.

Ross Domoney

Ross Domoney is an award-winning documentary filmmaker based in Athens.

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