The eternal patience of the migrant

“We’ve been here for 10 days, but I’ve been here on this island for 21 days.” – Omar, Syrian Migrant

“They have to wait. Five days, eight days, six days, it depends.” – Greek police official

Within the recurring theme of liminality, I have noticed that patience is central to the migrant experience. The fact that a migrant can wait for weeks (months, years!) to leave one’s country and land on European territory, but still not be given the official documentation as an asylum seeker or refugee. The idea that entire families can live and work and succeed in a particular country, but bureaucratic notions of “legal” and “illegal” status prevent any true citizenship and state protection, forcing migrants to live in the patient yet terrifying space of insider/outsider.

In the Vice documentary clip, Migrants Stranded on Kos, the Greek Island of Kos operates as a liminal space of citizen and migrant. Dozens, if not hundreds, of migrants have landed on Kos, an island only 6 kilometers from Turkey, and yet it takes weeks for the migrants to gain any formal paperwork which would allow them legal protection to travel in Europe. Yet the paradox of Kos is that for Europeans the island is a tourist destination. On one end of the island, dozens of migrants live in filth in an abandoned hotel building–on the other, Greeks and Europeans are soaking up the sun on the elegant beaches.

The mayor denies any responsibility to the situation: “It’s the government’s duty to support the police department and the coast guard, so that these people can leave the island quickly.” The paradox is only too clear: the mayor wants the migrants to leave as soon as possible, yet the bureaucratic powers of the state force migrants into the liminal space of waiting in order to maintain control on the number of foreigners.