The Writing on the Wall: Detention Center Art
During the “Cultures, Migrations, Borders” Summer School of the University of the Aegean we visited the -now closed- Immigrant Detention Center of Pagani, in Lesvos-Greece.
Pagani Detention Center is a detention center in the island of Lesbos, Greece for illegal immigrants who arrive by boat from Turkey.
A converted former storage facility in Lesbos, the center was designed for 300 people, but at times housed up to 1,200 immigrants in cramped conditions, often lacking in medicinal care and subject to beatings from the guards, drawing condemnations of Greek and foreign humanitarian watchdogs. On 18 August 2009, 160 under-age refugees were detained in a single room and sharing the same toilet, started an hunger strike demanding immediate freedom.
In autumn 2009, after a visit by the Deputy Minister for the Protection of the Citizen, the Greek government pledged to close down Pagani and other similarly overcrowded centers in the Eastern Aegean islands. Pagani was closed for 20 days in November. As of April 2010, the lower rooms have been closed, and only the upper storey remains, accommodating some 30–40 people
There I was able to capture some of the writings and drawings of ex-detainees in the center. Names, poems, email addresses, prayers, phone numbers, religious and other symbols, country maps, release countdowns, small works of art, spelling lessons for children, as well as song lyrics in broken English, French, Arabic, Farsi and various other languages covered the cheap plywood walls. Together with other small tokens of life in dentention (plastic forks, razor blades, surgical masks, children’s shoes and socks, toothbrushes, laxatives and painkillers) they offer a glimpse to the life of migrants in transit in absentio.