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Borderline vulnerabilities: an institutional ethnography of the asylum process in Lesbos, Greece

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posted on 12.04.2021, 07:49 by Evangelia Papada
This dissertation is an exploration of vulnerability-based decision- making in the context of the implementation of asylum procedures at EU’s south eastern borders. I contend that EU’s borders must be examined in relation to the regulation of cross border mobility and must be understood as a set of social and temporal processes that spatially (re)produce vulnerability. As a case study I present the institutional assessment of vulnerability on the island of Lesbos, following the EU’s recognition of Turkey as a safe third country for asylum seekers in March 2016. I deploy institutional ethnography as a research and methodological tool; I locate myself in Lesbos and Athens to study the assessment of vulnerability in practice, through the daily work and narratives of Greek and EC bureaucrats, medical professionals and lawyers who are responsible for ascribing vulnerability. In addition, I examine legal and bureaucratic documents which produce a particular way of understanding and assessing vulnerability. I demonstrate that vulnerability narratives are directly associated with regulatory frameworks, norms and practices which administrate people in space and time. In particular, it is through the affirmation and/or denial of vulnerability during the asylum process that individuals come to be assessed as deserving international protection and welfare provision. In this way, individuals crossing the EU-Turkish border are ‘managed’ not only through the credibility of their asylum claim but on additional medical and moral grounds. Against this categorical and a-spatial understanding of vulnerability, I propose a geographical approach that takes into account the place specificity of migrants’ embodied experience, precarity and trauma as a way of advancing critical geographies of border and immigration controls.



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Geography and Environment


Loughborough University

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© Evie Papada

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.




Heike Jöns

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