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Friday, 1 March 2019

Securitisation of migration in the EU: The case of Greece

On 26 February 2019, Foteini Kalantzi (A.G. Leventis Research Officer at the Diaspora Project in SEESOX, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, for the academic year 2018-19), gave a talk on the topic of “Securitisation of migration in the EU: The case of Greece”.

Kalantzi’s talk centred around the idea of the evolution of state attitudes towards migration, resulting in a shared tendency she called “securitisation”. The EU as a whole has considered the challenges and concerns caused by migration as a security challenge – especially since the 2004 and 2005 terrorist attacks in Madrid and London respectively. Her case study is Greece, which had to comply with EU rules on migration, including border controls, visa policy and the fight against illegal immigration, especially within the context of the Schengen Treaty. The paper traces the country’s own attitudes towards migration from 2000 and up until 2014, against the background of the dramatic changes Greece underwent after the onset of the economic crisis in 2009. The methodology used was based on discourse analysis of three major newspapers (Kathimerini, To Vima and Ta Nea) and parliamentary debates, as well as interviews with activists and people involved in various capacities in the migration waves since the early 2000s. Using these sources, she tried to look at the ways in which migration was linked to security issues in the public sphere, especially by elites.

Her main theoretical contribution is that she bridges two schools of thought in International Relations: the Copenhagen School, which sustains that International Relations should be analysed through the performative capacity of the discourse that is employed by relevant actors, and the Paris School, a sociological approach that focuses on practices, such as the framework being moulded through bureaucracy or through security. Instead, the paper proposed a holistic approach that looks at both discourse and practices. In addition, the theoretical arsenal she used in the paper ranged from Giorgio Agamben’s notion of “homo Sacer” to Michel Foucault’s biopolitical analysis.

In the initial part, the paper laid out the reasons why “security professionals” throughout the EU increasingly consider migration as a security concern – leading to the increasing bureaucratisation of its handling. It then focused on the Greek case study, arguing that the interconnection between migration and security was linked to a conceptualisation of migrants as “foreigners”, alien to Greekness – thus demonstrating the links between such attitudes and the gradual rise of the extreme right since the early 2000s. She laid out this evolution through discourses on public health, public order, identity and economy, in relation to migration. In other words, she looked at how Greek political discourse considered migration as a potential “time-bomb”, whether in terms of health, security, identity or economy. She used various examples ranging from Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis arguing that a hygiene time-bomb caused by migration was lurking in Greek society, to the pogroms triggered by the assassination of Manolis Kantaris by Afghan migrants in 2011, and the moral panic triggered by a public debate on whether a valedictorian student of Albanian origins should hold the Greek flag. The paper further emphasised that key events - such as the Manolada incident where Greek employers seriously maltreated migrant workers - were not adequately addressed in the public discourse. She also highlighted the fact that the hardening of xenophobic tendencies in Greek society coincided with the intensification of the ‘securitisation’ idea on a state level. She further pointed out that the stance of elite newspapers did not put in doubt either the dominant socio-political status or the hegemonic rhetoric interrelating migration to security.

The paper concluded by placing Greece’s attitude towards migration within a pan-European context of biometricisation and securitisation, including the use of Frontex to secure the country’s borders, thus intensifying even more the relationship between security and migration. Local initiatives, including the “Xenios Zeus”security force, and its so-called sweep operations to spot illegal migrants in Athens, or the erection of a wall on the Greek-Turkish border in the Evros region, further constitute a militarisation of attitudes on migration, corresponding well with standard EU practices.

One of Kalantzi’s further conclusions was that securitisation is not a linear process but that it follows a pattern of ups and downs. Nevertheless, one can observe a gradual intensification of this tendency over time. Another conclusion, connected to the sources used, is that mainstream newspapers in Greece not only did not contribute to the de-securitisation of migration but on the contrary helped intensify and consolidate this tendency.

During the lively Q & A session, Kalantzi discussed methodological issues, her choice of media and the possibility of including television as a source, the comparison of the Greek case to other case studies (countries), and the wider connection of migration with conservatism issues in Greece.

Kostis Kornetis (Santander Fellow, St Antony's College, Oxford)

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