Olga Lafazani uses the contrasts between 1922-4 and 2015 to ask hard questions about whose interests are behind the conceptualization and management of “refugee crises”.

Olga is a researcher at the National Hellenic Research Foundation.

As a student in the 1990s, Olga began to participate in grassroots initiatives to address injustice and racism. Two decades and three degrees later, she is the principal investigator of a new project entitled 1 Century, 2 Refugee Crises. Olga’s project asks a deceptively simple question: ‘What makes an event a crisis?’ As she notes, “it’s not about numbers”: the refugees of 1922-4 represented a far larger body, as a share of the population of Greece at that time, than the refugees of 2015, who work out as equivalent to less than one per cent of Europe’s population.

We want to understand how in history some events are framed as “crises”, and what does this framing mean for governing these “crises”?

While the first crisis of 1922-4 has come to be romanticized in centenary commemorations, the 2015 crisis saw refugees cast as “subjects and objects of fear”, denied the vote – again, in stark contrast to a century ago, when migrants got the franchise within just two years. Whereas the 1922-4 refugees often carried the means of supporting themselves on their journey, today we see a vastly expensive relief effort focused on the provision of services, rather than development. Finally, Olga points to the contrast between the spatial integration of these “foreigners” in the heart of Athens or other centres a century ago, and today’s assumption that isolated camps are “the common-sense solution”. We need to “follow the money” and question our assumption that “migration” represents a “cultural phenomenon.”

Episode 32 – Crisis Thinking

Podcasts are published by TLP for the purpose of encouraging informed debate on the legacies of the events surrounding the Lausanne Conference. The views expressed by participants do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of TLP, its partners, convenors or members.