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  • On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece by Heath Cabot
  • Theodoros Fouskas (bio)
Heath Cabot, On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2014. Pp. 272. 5 illustrations. Cloth $65.

Heath Cabot’s On the Doorstep of Europe is an ethnographic study of the asylum system in Greece. The book traces the ways asylum seekers, service providers, and bureaucrats attempt to make sense of the multiple and challenging dilemmas of governance, information, ethics, rights discourse, humanitarian practice, and sociability that emerge through this legal process posed by both human rights law and European governance. By focusing on the work of the Athens Refugee Service (ARS), an asylum advocacy nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Athens, Cabot investigates the tragedies of asylum in Greece: ethical life, work of judgment, and new possibilities for belonging and citizenship resulting from political violence. Despite the argument’s lack of clarity in some sections, the book underlines the fact that what matters are not simply the observations made by the author that might be newsworthy and relevant, but the lessons and conclusions drawn from these observations on how aid candidates and service providers reshape dominant images of deservingness, victimhood, and vulnerability from within systems of aid distribution.

Through the MSS v. Belgium and Greece asylum-seeking case described in chapter 1, Cabot illustrates that the inadequacies of the Greek asylum procedure should be understood within the wider framework of European governance mechanisms, including legislative, policy, and advocacy trends, regional histories of displacement, and often more global forms of violence and inequality that have positioned Greece in the margins of Europe. Concerning migration and asylum management, Greece’s moral and political marginality in Europe is inextricable from its position in Europe’s land and sea borders. Policies and practices aimed toward safeguarding the EU as an area devoted to freedom of movement, security, justice, human rights, and humanitarian values interact with internal policing and legislative practices of Greece, which bears the main responsibility for maintaining and protecting the EU borders, while migrants and refugees remain in legal limbo. [End Page 187]

The second chapter investigates the everyday conditions, processes, and interactions in the Aliens and Immigration Directorate of the Athens and Attica Prefecture, where new applicants meet with the state regulatory authority through encounters with the police. Also, the so-called pink card (identity document) is examined as an entry point into the multiple forms of limbo that characterize asylum seeking in Greece. Cabot follows the pink card’s process from its bureaucratic production by the authorities, through its circulation in the everyday discussions and survival practices of asylum seekers, to its final disappearance at the end of the asylum process. The chapter shows how the document acquires diverse meanings and uses through the interactions of police, bureaucrats, and asylum seekers.

Chapter 3 explores how ARS workers and asylum seekers attempt to navigate the tragic dilemmas that characterize Greek NGO cultures of assistance. NGO workers offer assistance to some while they turn others away, as a result of limitations in labor power and resources, constraints of law and bureaucracy, and ARS institutional commitments. Cabot frequently deploys the notion of tragedy and tragic dilemmas, that is to say, dilemmas that she marks with the word “tragedy” in order to underscore the circumstances that block access to services, recognition, and protection supposedly available to refugees and that reflect the deep structural ambivalence in Greece regarding state and NGO responsibilities to provide services to refugees and asylum seekers. These dilemmas effectively destabilize both the services offered and the capacity to claim them. Not only do they produce restrictions to which NGO workers and asylum seekers must respond and adjust, but they also stimulate engagements through which all parties manage the dilemmas of the asylum process, the work of service provision, and the encounters between them.

The fourth chapter centers on the factors that are important in making eligibility or ineligibility decisions for ARS services by NGO professionals. These factors include empirical and subjective elements such as the opinions and feelings of the NGO professionals and the interpreters, as they emerge in the larger picture of each case.

Aid candidates...


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pp. 187-190
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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