Between the land and the sea: refugee experiences of the lighthouse as a real and symbolic border

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In the context of the refugee crisis, seascapes are taking on new dimensions with borders shifting from the shore line to being redrawn in the water itself. As such, refugees are now crossing waters that have become extended sovereign borders. This is manifest in increased maritime surveillance to prevent refugees arriving by boat and landing on Europe’s and Australia’s shores. In this context, materially and symbolically, lighthouses mark out the space between the sea and land and in so doing, delimit these territorial and maritime borders. Although the function of the lighthouse is to warn those at sea of the dangers on the coastline, steering them away from coastal hazards and guiding them through a safe passage, for many sea travellers it can also represent the safety of the land, of arrival. This paper explores the ambiguous roles and effects of lighthouses; uniquely placed as sentinel posts along the coast they can aid military surveillance and control while at the same time enabling humanitarian assistance. It explores these conflicting functions focusing on how the lighthouse, as a border between land and sea, simultaneously protects and excludes offering beacons of hope as well as signalling danger. The paper draws on the arrival of refugees at Korakas lighthouse on the Greek island of Lesvos to illuminate these variable functions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2020


  • refugees
  • lighthouses
  • welcome
  • coastal zones
  • land and sea borders

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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