“A Total Black Hole”: How COVID-19 Increased Bureaucratic Violence Against Refugees in Greece





asylum seekers, refugees, bureaucratic violence, Greece, COVID-19, Athens


State responses to COVID-19 were unevenly felt across society. Negative consequences of lockdowns and travel restrictions for the upper classes were largely restricted to not seeing friends or taking holidays. For those with little or no right to have rights (Arendt, 1970), those relegated to society’s margins—such as refugees and asylum claimants—state responses to COVID-19 metamorphosed into Kafkaesque restrictions, surveillance, and control. Informed by participant observations and 10 interviews with civil society actors conducted in Athens in 2021 and 2022 at the height of the pandemic, this paper shows how the Greek state weaponized COVID-19 to further exclude refugees from society, deny asylum procedures, and reduce service provision for those awaiting the outcome of their asylum claims.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biographies

Raluca Bejan, Department of European Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Raluca Bejan is Associate Professor of Social Work and in the Department of European Studies at Dalhousie University. She can be reached at Raluca.Bejan@dal.ca.

Tracy Glynn, Environment and Society Program, St.Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tracy Glynn is an assistant professor in the Environment and Society program at St. Thomas University. She can be reached at tglynn@stu.ca.


Abdelhady, D. (2020). Media constructions of the refugee crisis in Sweden: Institutions and the challenges of refugee governance. In D. Abdelhady, N. Gren, & M. Joormann (Eds.), Refugees and the violence of welfare bureaucracies in northern Europe (pp. 122–143). Manchester University Press. https://doi.org/10.7765/9781526146847

Abdelhady, D., Gren, N., & Joormann, M. (Eds.). (2020). Refugees and the violence of welfare bureaucracies in northern Europe. Manchester University Press. https://doi.org/10.7765/9781526146847

Adam, J., & Hänsel, V. (2021). After humanitarian reason? Formations of violence, modes of rule and cosmopolitical struggles at the “European margins” movements. Journal for Critical Migration and Border Regime Studies, 6(1), 105–122. https://movements-journal.org/issues/09.open-call/06.adam,hansel--after-humanitarian-reason.html

Afouxenidis, A., Petrou, M., Kandylis, G., Tramountanis, A., & Giannaki, D. (2017). Dealing with a humanitarian crisis: Refugees on the eastern EU border of the island of Lesvos. Journal of Applied Security Research, 12(1), 7–39. https://doi.org/10.1080/19361610.2017.1228023

Alawa, J., Alawa, N., Coutts, A., Sullivan, R., Khoshnood, K., & Fouad, F. M. (2020). Addressing COVID-19 in humanitarian settings: A call to action. Conflict and Health, 14(64), Article 64. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13031-020-00307-8

Alrob, Z. A., & Shields, J. (2022). A COVID-19 state of exception and the bordering of Canada’s immigration system: Assessing the uneven impacts on refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers. Studies in Social Justice, 16(1), 54–77. https://doi.org/10.26522/ssj.v16i1.2691

Ammaturo, F. R. (2019). Europe and whiteness: Challenges to European identity and citizenship in light of Brexit and the “refugees/migrants crisis.” European Journal of Social Theory, 22(4), 548–566. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368431018783318

Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso.

Anderson, W. (2016). Afterword: Following racial paper trails. In A. Widmer & V. Lipphardt (Eds.), Health and difference: Rendering human variation in colonial engagements (pp. 224–231). Berghahn Books. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvr695k8.15

Anderson, B. (2017). The politics of pests: Immigration and the invasive other. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 84(1), 7–28. https://doi.org/10.1353/sor.2017.0003

Arendt, H. (1970). On violence. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ausubel, E. (2019). An untold story: The need to address sexual abuse and exploitation of refugee boys. Kennedy School Review, 19, 79–84. https://safeguardingsupporthub.org/documents/untold-story-need-address-sexual-abuse-and-exploitation-refugee-boys

Ayata, B., & Fyssa, A. (2020, April 14). Politics of abandonment: Refugees on Greek islands during the coronavirus crisis. EuroZine. https://www.eurozine.com/politics-of-abandonment/

Baker, C. (2021). No refuge for the sick: How the EU’s health-based non-refoulement standard compounds the exclusionary nature of international refugee law. Washington International Law Journal, 31, 251–291. https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wilj/vol31/iss2/3

Balibar, É. (2015). Citizenship. Polity Press.

Belanteri, R. A., Hinderaker, S. G., Wilkinson, E., Episkopou, M., Timire, C., De Plecker, E., Mabhala, M., Takarinda, K. C., & Van den Bergh, R. (2020). Sexual violence against migrants and asylum seekers: The experience of the MSF clinic on Lesvos Island, Greece. PloS ONE, 15(9), Article e0239187. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0239187

Bejan, R. (2022, June 4). “NGOs are sort of a dirty word here”: Refugee service provision in Greece. Routed Magazine. https://www.routedmagazine.com/omc22-ngos-services-greece

Bejan, R., & Souvlis, G. (2019, September 2). So long, Exarcheia: In conversation with Athenian essayist George Souvlis. Rabble.ca. https://rabble.ca/political-action/so-long-exarcheia/

Bird, G., Obradovic‐Wochnik, J., Beatty A. R., & Rozbicka, P. (2021). The “badlands” of the “Balkan Route”: Policy and spatial effects on urban refugee housing. Global Policy, 12(2), 28–40. https://doi.org/10.1111/1758-5899.12808

Bohnet, H., & Rüegger, S. (2021). Refugees and COVID‐19: Beyond health risks to insecurity. Swiss Political Science Review, 27(2), 353–368. https://doi.org/10.1111/spsr.12466

Boukala, S. (2021). Far-right discourse as legitimacy? Analysing political rhetoric on the “migration issue” in Greece. Studies in Communication Sciences, 21(2), 329–341. https://doi.org/10.24434/j.scoms.2021.02.014

Bousiou, A. (2020). From humanitarian crisis management to Prison Island: Implementing the European asylum regime at the border island of Lesvos 2015–2017. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 22(3), 431–447. https://doi.org/10.1080/19448953.2020.1752560

Brakefield, W. S., Olusanya, O. A., White, B., & Shaban-Nejad, A. (2023). Social determinants and indicators of COVID-19 among marginalized communities: A scientific review and call to action for pandemic response and recovery. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 17, Article e193. https://doi.org/10.1017/dmp.2022.104

Cabot, H. (2019). The European refugee crisis and humanitarian citizenship in Greece. Ethnos, 84(5), 747–771. https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2018.1529693

Canning, V. (2020). Bureaucratised banality: Asylum and immobility in Britain, Denmark and Sweden. In D. Abdelhady, N. Gren, & M. Joormann (Eds.), Refugees and the violence of welfare bureaucracies in northern Europe (pp. 210–226). Manchester University Press. https://doi.org/10.7765/9781526146847.00021

Caron, R. M., & Adegboye, A. R. A. (2021). COVID-19: A syndemic requiring an integrated approach for marginalized populations. Frontiers in Public Health, 9, Article 675280. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2021.675280

Chatty, D. (2021). When perceptions and aspirations clash. In J. Bseiso, M. Hofman, & J. Whithall (Eds.), Everybody’s war: The politics of aid in the Syria crisis (pp. 86–110). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780197514641.003.0005

Crawley, H. (2021). The politics of refugee protection in a (post)COVID-19 world. Social Sciences, 10(3), Article 81. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10030081

Dalsania, A. K., Fastiggi, M. J., Kahlam, A., Shah, R., Patel, K., Shiau, S., Rokicki, S., & DallaPiazza, M. (2021). The relationship between social determinants of health and racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 9, 288–295. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-020-00952-y

Damon-Feng, H. (2022). Refoulement as pandemic policy. Washington International Law Journal, 31, 185–212. https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wilj/vol31/iss2/4

Davies, T. (2022). Slow violence and toxic geographies: “Out of sight” to whom? Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 40(2), 409–427. https://doi.org/10.1177/239965441984106

Eldridge, E. R., & Reinke, A. J. (2018). Introduction: Ethnographic engagement with bureaucratic violence. Conflict and Society, 4(1), 94–98. https://doi.org/10.3167/arcs.2018.040108

European Council. (2016, March 18). EU–Turkey statement, 18 March 2016. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/03/18/eu-turkey-statement/

Eurostat. (2022, January 27). Minimum wages, January 2022 and January 2012 (€ per month and %). https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=File:Minimum_wages,_January_2022_and_January_2012_(%E2%82%AC_per_month_and_%25)_F1.png

Fouskas, T. (2020). Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Greece in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Comparative Cultural Studies-European and Latin American Perspectives, 5(10), 39–58. https://doi.org/10.13128/ccselap-12297

Franco-Paredes, C., Jankousky, K., Schultz, J., Bernfeld, J., Cullen, K., Quan, N. G., Kon, S., Hotez, P., Henao-Martínez, A. F., & Krsak, M. (2020). COVID-19 in jails and prisons: A neglected infection in a marginalized population. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 14(6), Article e0008409. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0008409

Gordon, E., & Larsen, H. K. (2016). The violent inaction of the state and the camp as site of struggle: The perspectives of humanitarian actors in Moria Camp, Lesvos. European Journal of International Security, 6(4), 418–438. https://doi.org/10.1017/eis.2021.9

Greenwood, P. (2022, December 2). The Greek government wants a refugee-free capital by 2023. Hyphen. https://hyphenonline.com/2022/12/02/the-greek-government-wants-a-refugee-free-capital-by-2023/

Hargreaves, S., Kondilis, E., Papamichail, D., McCann, S., Orcutt, M., Carruthers, E., & Veizis, A. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 on migrants in Greece: A retrospective analysis of national data. European Journal of Public Health, 31(Suppl 3.), Article ckab164.589. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckab164.589

Heckert, C. (2020). The bureaucratic violence of the health care system for pregnant immigrants on the United States–Mexico border. Human Organization, 79(1), 33–42. https://doi.org/10.17730/0018-7259.79.1.33

Honohan, I. (2010, June). The theory and politics of ius soli. European University Institute. https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/19574/Honohan_IusSoli_2010.pdf

Karlin, J. R. (2022). Battles for socio‐spatial hegemony in the exilic space of Exarcheia. Antipode, 54(4), 1112–1140. https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12833

Khosravi, S. (2010). “Illegal” traveller: An auto-ethnography of borders. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230281325

Lafazani, O. (2018). Homeplace plaza: Challenging the border between host and hosted. South Atlantic Quarterly, 117(4), 896–904. https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-7166043

Mallet-Garcia, M. L., & Delvino, N. (2021). Re-thinking exclusionary policies: The case of irregular migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe. Social Policy Review, 33, 243–264. https://doi.org/10.51952/9781447359739.ch012

Mavromara, L., Gerakopoulou, P., & Christakis, N. (2023). School principals’ perceptions on refugee students’ integration in Greek schools. Education Sciences, 2023(1), 202–222. https://doi.org/10.26248/edusci.v2023i1.1649

Micinski, N. R. (2019). Everyday coordination in EU migration management: Civil society responses in Greece. International Studies Perspectives, 20(2), 129–148. https://doi.org/10.1093/isp/ekz001

Molnar, P. (2019). Technology on the margins: AI and global migration management from a human rights perspective. Cambridge International Law Journal, 8(2), 305–330. https://doi.org/10.4337/cilj.2019.02.07

Morales, E. C. (2021). The black holes of Lesbos: Life and death at Moria camp—Border violence, asylum, and racisms at the edge of postcolonial Europe. Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics, 7(2), 73–87. https://doi.org/10.17356/ieejsp.v7i2.895

Olioumtsevits, K., Papadopoulou, D., & Marinis, T. (2022). Vocabulary teaching in refugee children within the context of the Greek formal education. Languages, 8(1), Article 7. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages8010007

Palaiologou, N., & Prekate, V. (2023). Refugee students’ psychosocial well-being: The case of a refugee hospitality centre in Greece. Societies, 13(3), Article 78. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc13030078

Pettas, D., Avdikos, V., Iliopoulou, E., & Karavasili, I. (2021). “Insurrection is not a spectacle”: Experiencing and contesting touristification in Exarcheia, Athens. Urban Geography, 43(7), 984–1006. https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2021.1888521

Poenaru, F. (2021). COVID-19 in Romania—The militarization of social life and the banality of death. Dialectical Anthropology, 45(4), 405–417. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10624-021-09632-7

Piquero, A. R., Jennings, W. G., Jemison, E., Kaukinen, C., & Knaul, F. M. (2021). Domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Criminal Justice, 74, Article 101806. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2021.101806

Ratzmann, N., & Sahraoui, N. (2021). Conceptualising the role of deservingness in migrants’ access to social services. Social Policy and Society, 20(3), 440–451. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1474746421000117

Refugees Support Aegean. (2021, May 27). Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) completes registration on the NGO registry. https://rsaegean.org/en/rsa-completes-registration-ngo-registry/

Schack, L., & Witcher, A. (2021). Hostile hospitality and the criminalization of civil society actors aiding border crossers in Greece. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 39(3), 477–495. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263775820958709

Sharma, N. (2020). Home rule: National sovereignty and the separation of natives and migrants. Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv11smzfs

Simopoulos, G., & Magos, K. (2020). Teaching L2 for students with a refugee/migrant background in Greece: Teachers’ perceptions about reception, integration and multicultural identities. Global Education Review, 7(4), 59–73. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1284988

Spathopoulou, A., Carastathis, A., & Tsilimpounidi, M. (2020). “Vulnerable refugees” and “voluntary deportations”: Performing the hotspot, embodying its violence. Geopolitics, 27(4), 1257–1283. https://doi.org/10.1080/14650045.2020.1772237

Spencer, S., & Charsley, K. (2016). Conceptualising integration: A framework for empirical research, taking marriage migration as a case study. Comparative Migration Studies, 4(1), Article 18. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40878-016-0035-x

Tazzioli, M., & Stierl, M. (2021). “We closed the ports to protect refugees”: Hygienic borders and deterrence humanitarianism during COVID-19. International Political Sociology, 15(4), 539–558. https://doi.org/10.1093/ips/olab023

Topak, O. E. (2020). Biopolitical violence and waiting: Hotspot as a biopolitical borderzone. Antipode, 52(6), 1857–1878. https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12676

Tsourdi, E. (2020). COVID-19, asylum in the EU, and the great expectations of solidarity. International Journal of Refugee Law, 32(2), 374–380. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijrl/eeaa023

Tzoraki, O. (2019). A descriptive study of the schooling and higher education reforms in response to the refugees’ influx into Greece. Social Sciences, 8(3), Article 72. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8030072

Wagner-Egger, P., Bangerter, A., Gilles, I., Green, E., Rigaud, D., Krings, F., Staerklé, C., & Clémence, A. (2011). Lay perceptions of collectives at the outbreak of the H1N1 epidemic: Heroes, villains, and victims. Public Understanding of Science, 20(4), 461–476. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662510393605

Welander, M., & De Vries, L. A. (2016, September 30). Refugees, displacement, and the European “politics of exhaustion.” Open Democracy. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/mediterranean-journeys-in-hope/refugees-displacement-and-europ/

Yücel, A. (2021). Symbolic annihilation of Syrian refugees by Turkish news media during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal for Equity in Health, 20(137), Article 137. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-021-01472-9



How to Cite

Bejan, R., & Glynn, T. (2024). “A Total Black Hole”: How COVID-19 Increased Bureaucratic Violence Against Refugees in Greece. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 39(2), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.25071/1920-7336.41079

Similar Articles

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.