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Introducing key global development challenges
Introducing key global development challenges

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4.3 Governance and Lesvos

Governance as you read in section 3.2 is about the rules, policies and norms that set out how state and non-state actors manage their affairs and deal with competing interests and agendas. Asking ´Who gets to decide the rules and policies that are recognised and enforced?´ draws attention to the power dynamics at work in the Lesvos context.

Initially, the local population took responsibility for the refugees acting according to their own informal societal norms whilst at the same time having to pay attention to national laws and policies such as need for registration as a refugee, and the anti-trafficking laws of Greece which meant that the refugees could not be transported by taxi or public transport. However, as the numbers of migrants arriving increased, the Greek Prime Minister asked for external help in August 2015 and the UN recognised that the EU had a shared responsibility to address refugees’ needs. This brought into play international protocols such as the ‘responsibility to protect’, which states that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophes, but when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states (International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty 2001). Additionally, the UN invoked the need to share responsibility for refugees needs (UNHCR, 2017).

A photograph of flags.
Figure 10

Such actions changed dramatically the dynamics of the situation. It opened the doors to a huge humanitarian and security response by EU agencies, international NGOs (INGOs) and private actors who all started interacting with each other as well as with the Greek state, local authorities and civil society on Lesvos. Whilst seemingly for the good, the measures and actions imposed by those who had power to enforce policy and protocols, such as the EU and the Greek government, did not take into consideration the needs and interests of local communities on the island, nor were they required to. For example, various exceptional border policies were enforced by the Greek state and the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU. The geographical restriction of migrants’ movement on Lesvos was one policy that overlooked the interests and concerns of both refugees and locals who were affected directly by the enforcement of this policy.

Activity 7: Pause for reflection

Timing: 15 minutes

Regulatory frameworks, laws and international protocols exist to protect citizens of a country, to guarantee human rights, to protect refugees.

In your opinion, what do you think can get lost when thinking in terms of rules, laws and regulations?

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This is a personal view, and you may have different ideas. What gets lost in my view is the very individual and human dimension of migration, both the good and not so good dimensions that exist in every social interaction. This is often difficult to manage and generalise as it is so individual and varied, but ultimately it is the human stories that engage and capture our attention. Witness how this works in social media and the media in general. The laws and protocols are necessary but, as the Lesvos case demonstrates, the question needs to be asked as to whose needs they serve, whose agendas?

Thinking in terms of governance, the Lesvos situation highlights the different levels at which governance operates - local, national, international and global, with multiple actors operating at every level. The interactions between the different actors brings to the fore unequal power dynamics and the interplay between governance and conflict. The exclusion of one group of important actors, the local people of Lesvos, from influencing a process that directly affected their lives, provoked a feeling of anger and helplessness. The confinement of migrants to Lesvos led to tensions and conflict between them and local people. Overcrowding and poor conditions created conflicts amongst the migrants themselves. Governance is a process that shapes development, what does and does not happen, who benefits and who does not.