Documenting resilience and hope on Chios
‘I’m upset because this is not fair, it is unacceptable’ – Suhel said in a thirst for justice, as we sat on a hill overlooking Vial, the EU’s hotspot on Chios. It was the first time for Leah, a newly arrived volunteer, to really talk to a refugee. In the midst of the ongoing humanitarian emergency, simply sitting and chatting was not regarded as a useful volunteering activity. Yet, for us, and others like Leah, listening to a refugee talk about his experiences and life on Chios profoundly shaped our time as volunteers.
We talked to Suhel for more than an hour, as he shared his views about becoming a refugee, the undignified living conditions in Vial, but also about volunteers, friendship and family. For us, it was crucial to create a space for these free-flowing conversations in which, for a moment, our subjects would ignore the voice recorder, and we would temporarily forget our role as producers and the difficulties that hours of recordings would pose to the editing process.
The informality and collaborative nature of 12 Mirrors reflect the everyday relations between refugees and volunteers that we had witnessed on Chios. With this project, we have tried to challenge dominant representations of refugees and document the voices of those working on the frontlines alongside them. We felt their voices weren’t really part of the narrative – where refugees were either being reduced to victims, villains, or rendered mute altogether, and the essential work of grassroots volunteer networks on the ground was erased from official accounts of the ‘refugee crisis’. Consequently, we did not want to focus only on the horrors of the camps but capture the resilience and everyday acts solidarity amidst the inhumane consequences of Europe’s border regime. Each story reflects a fragment of an individual and, when put together, a mosaic of lives on Chios.
A year after 12 Mirrors was released, we are painfully aware of its many shortcomings. Without additional efforts to overcome the various intersecting linguistic, cultural or gender barriers, some refugees remained unreachable, leaving our mosaic incomplete. Furthermore, it captures the limitations of using social media platforms to challenge dominant representations of refugees. In the absence of re-mediation by major news outlets, the reach of projects like these are at risk of remaining at the whims of algorithms, inevitably confining them to allied echo chambers. This implies that their ability to change the circumstances of those whose voices they seek to amplify is limited, unless accompanied by concrete collective political action.
Cova is a migration lawyer and has been active in the independent volunteer community on Chios since 2016.
Ludek is Lecturer at the University of East Anglia. He is currently researching refugee-volunteer solidarity on Chios.