Posted on 20 April 2023 in bulletin, geography, politics

Migrant Struggles, Digital Tools And Knowledge From Below: Evidence From Greece

In this contribution to Bulletin 27, Costas Gousis explores what he calls digital infrastructures of dissent, taking two migrant protests in Greece as case studies.

Costas Gousis

Panteion University, Athens, Greece

Image in public domain by Koshu Kunii (via Unsplash).

Focusing on specific migrant struggles in Greece in the early 2010s, this article explores uses of digital tools and interactions among online and offline forms of activism. Building on the concept of ‘infrastructure of dissent,’ which Alan Sears defines as ‘the means through which activists develop political communities capable of learning, communicating and mobilizing together’,[1] this article aspires to contribute to a deeper understanding of what we could identify as digital infrastructures of dissent. Of course, focusing on the emancipatory aspects of digital technologies does not mean that we should underestimate their important role in the intensification of surveillance and securitization. 

In fact, a growing body of literature explores these contradictory implications of the digital condition for migration research. Lilie Chouliaraki and Myria Georgiou provide some very useful definitions to explain the ways that digital technologies shape the experiences and meanings of migration. First, they relate the concept of digital border to the ‘wider orientation of migration governance today towards a holistic, biopolitical and digitised, management of human cross-border mobility.’[2] Secondly, the digital border is related to the symbolic border, meaning with that the control the public narratives of migration on digital news platforms or, in other words, media imaginaries (stories, images, social media posts) excluding, silencing, and dehumanising migrants across European public spheres. And finally, the researchers highlight the digital border as a ‘dialectical space of struggle’ since digital infrastructures can also empower migrants and enable self-expression, care, solidarity, protection, and acts of resistance.[3]

In this article, I am precisely concerned with this last dimension, the intersections between the digital condition and migrant struggles. My main hypothesis is that during the 2010s a minority of Greece’s immigrant population engaged in collective struggles and used digital tools in various innovative and impactful ways. Chouliaraki and Georgiou take their case studies from the 2015 European migration so-called refugee ‘crisis’. While 2015 was perhaps the biggest migration event of the twenty-first century in the West, at least until today, I bring attention to the period between 2011 and 2013. In what follows I delve into two cases, namely the emblematic 2011 hunger strike and the immigrant farmworkers’ uprising in Manolada in 2013. 

The article draws on the interviews Ι conducted with two immigrant activists in Athens during the summer of 2019.[4] The findings presented here are part of my PhD research on immigrant activism in Greece related to the 2008 financial crisis, its specificities in the Greek case, and its impact on the immigrant communities. 

The emblematic 2011 hunger strike

Between 2009 and 2011, there were numerous cases of hunger strikes organised by groups of immigrants on the Aegean Islands and the Greek mainland in detention centres, working places, and public spaces.[5] These hunger strikes should be seen as part of transnational immigrant protests in which, as Pellander and Horsti suggest, ‘those in powerless positions create a certain sovereignty: the power to do something within the often very limited opportunities that they have’.[6] Within this framework, the six-week hunger strike conducted by 300 immigrant workers from Maghreb at the beginning of 2011 was the biggest hunger strike conducted by immigrants in the country’s history.

Almost all of them were male workers from Maghreb who were living on the island of Crete. Most of them were undocumented and their main demand was the regularization of all migrants who live in Greece. The most active among them were members of the Cretan Forum of Immigrants, the Immigrant Center and the Maghreb Arabi Association. The hunger strikers decided to stage their protest in Athens and Thessaloniki, the capital and the second largest city in Greece, respectively. A mass hunger strike conducted by undocumented immigrants in the midst of crisis was immediately considered an existential threat to the government, which was already being challenged by mass anti-austerity movements after the first Greek bailout. 

As a result, the immediate governmental and media response was a well-orchestrated anti-immigrant campaign aptly described by the hunger strikers as ‘44 days of psychological war’.[7] Digital news and other online platforms reproduced the mainstream narrative presenting the hunger strikers as a threat to national security and their struggle as a plot of dark forces working against the country. It goes without saying that every single moment during these 44 days and nights of struggle was unique and exceptional. In this article, I can only highlight certain aspects related on the role of digital tools as part of the struggle.

In this context, the website of the hunger strike ( provided an important point of reference to the actual claims and voices of the hunger strikers and played a crucial role in the international solidarity movement. In his message to the hunger strikers, published in this website, Étienne Balibar placed special emphasis on the international aspect, noting that the solidarity movement must take form not only at a local scale, but at the continental level.[8] In fact, counter-information digital platforms, like this website, Indymedia, etc., proved really useful in creating and sustaining an inter-continental solidarity network. Suffice to say that solidarity messages were sent to the hunger strikers by the sans-papiers in Saints Denis,[9] the Guatemalan immigrants in Barcelona,[10] the feminists of Chiapas,[11] and many other groups, trade unions, etc. More importantly, digital platforms were used to coordinate worldwide solidarity action days, including what they described as ‘Electronic Civil Disobedience against the Greek State’, a form of participatory hacktivism that managed to overload the servers of Greek State webpages, making them dysfunctional and useless for some time.[12]

In my interview with one of the hunger strikers, he noted the impact of these transnational acts of solidarity on their morale. Commenting on the role of digital tools in their struggle, he also emphasised that they used an online communication platform for their daily assemblies which were held in Arabic. This platform made it possible for the 250 hunger strikers who were in Athens and the 50 of them who were in Thessaloniki to create a common online space of collective empowerment and deliberation. The hunger striker I interviewed was born in Western Sahara and his early political formation took place in the context of the ongoing struggle of Sahrawi people for independence, freedom, and justice. He highlighted that social media provided him and many other hunger strikers with the opportunity to maintain links with the activists in their country of origin. As he added, through social media he followed, and was inspired by, the Arab Spring which took place in parallel with their hunger strike.

The Case of Manolada

Manolada became known as one of the leading examples of immigrant farmworkers standing up for their rights in Greece. Manolada is a small village in the Peloponnese Region of Greece. From a population of around 21,000 residents at the municipal level in 2011, more than 3,500 were immigrants, mainly working in the farms of the broader area.[13] Over the last few decades, the cultivation of strawberries has rapidly expanded in Manolada, with the fruit becoming known as the ‘red gold’. Following the global paradigm of intensive agriculture, the cultivation methods in the area are based on overexploiting immigrant labour, transforming Manolada into a de facto special economic zone.[14]

On 17 April 2013, this small village became an international scandal when armed guards opened fire on more than 150 workers from Bangladesh who were striking to demand their unpaid wages. More than thirty workers were transferred to nearby hospitals, some severely injured. As B. Bhandar and D. Bhandar commented on the Manolada case: ‘It testifies to the increasingly hegemonic anti-immigrant policies of austerity-stricken European nations, while also reflecting modes of violence endemic to historically entrenched, racially stratified labour markets.’[15] The case was later brought before the Εuropean Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by 42 Bangladeshi workers (Chowdury and others v. Greece). On 30 March 2017, the ECHR delivered its judgement, finding that the farmworkers’ situation had become one of forced labor under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[16] Consequently, the court found that Greece had failed in its obligations to prevent human trafficking, protect the victims, conduct an effective investigation into the offences committed, and punish those responsible for the trafficking.[17]

My interview with Morshed Chowdury, one of the injured workers in the shootings[18] and lead applicant in the ECHR case, sheds light on their working and living conditions. Chowdury was born in a small village in rural Bangladesh in 1982 and arrived in Athens in 2008. As he commented on the working and living conditions in Manolada, it was ‘worse than prison’ and they could not even buy a phone card to contact their families and friends back home. The workers were living in makeshift tents of cardboard boxes and nylon without running water and toilets. They were also living under the constant supervision of armed guards who deprived them of communicating with the world outside the workers’ camp. 

These conditions have been described as ‘the spatial politics of the agricultural labour process’, ‘a form of housing segregation and a form of seclusion where the workers are effectively “trapped” without technically lacking the right to spatial liberty.’[19] What is particularly interesting for this article is the fact that digital exclusion appears to be a constitutive aspect of seclusion, central to managing the labour market and workforce in areas of intensive agriculture. At the same time, it is important that the system of seclusion, involving digital exclusion, was not enough to prevent the uprising of thousands of immigrant farmworkers in the area after the shootings, who were supported by class-oriented trade unions, immigrant associations, antiracist initiatives etc. all over Greece and abroad. 

Immigrant farmworkers used digital platforms to raise awareness of forced labour and human trafficking, share their stories, and build alliances with Bangladeshi and other communities in other European countries. A particularly interesting point that arose during my interview with Morshed Chowdury was the role of the boycott campaign. This campaign was not initiated by any political party, trade union, or immigrant association. It started as an international social media campaign when the hashtags #manolada and #bloodstrawberries went viral, as did the message ‘Next time you want to buy strawberries from Manolada, Greece, just think that they are covered with the blood of immigrant workers’.[20] The campaign, which rapidly spread far beyond the usual reach of the solidarity movement, led several supermarkets in Greece to refuse to sell strawberries from Manolada, and had a serious impact on strawberry exports. The boycott campaign had an equally serious impact on the immigrant farmworkers’ morale. As Chowdury expressed it in our interview: ‘A shiver runs up our spine every time we hear about the boycott’. 

To sum up, both case studies strengthen the hypothesis that digital technologies (the internet, mobile phones, social media, etc.) can prove to be very useful for migrants to facilitate and engage in contentious politics forming a new mosaic of online and offline repertoires. These findings are indicative of what Dorismilda Flores-Márquez described as ‘the expansion of communication possibilities that digital media implies, in terms of materialities, access, scope, visibility, interaction and interconnection.’[21] I would like to conclude this article with some final ethical and methodological considerations on the implications of the digital condition for critical migration studies. 

Goethe used to say: ‘What is hardest of all? That which seems most simple: to see with your eyes what is before your eyes.’ Digital research is already difficult since a screen is in front of our eyes for countless hours with countless tabs open. And it becomes even more difficult when we try to move from screens to actors and experiences. A  critical approach to migration studies requires challenging symbolic borders, and the linguistic misrepresentations of migrants as statistical numbers and flows. Or in other words, it requires engaging in a practice of counter-storytelling capable of seeing through the eyes of the other. Of course, challenging symbolic, categorical, and linguistic borders is never a matter of neutral technical training. It is a matter of empathy and the application of methodologies that can represent migrants as social, political, and historical actors. And this, partly, explains why neoliberal and authoritarian regimes attack the humanities and social sciences, which provide these methodologies. 

Finally, it is important to draw a line of demarcation between research and stalking when we collect online data. For example, when we review the digital profile of our interviewees, we might have access to publications on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other digital platforms. Even if these publications are of a public nature, it is important to think carefully what should be included in our research, taking under careful consideration ethical concerns related to the legal, emotional, financial, and social vulnerabilities to which migrants may be exposed, especially migrant activists who might also be under official scrutiny. Their safety, wellbeing, and eligibility for services should be our first and only priority.[22]


[1] A. Sears, The Next New Left: A History of the Future (Halifax and Winnipeg, Canada 2014: Fernwood Publishing), 2. 

[2] L. Chouliaraki and M. Georgiou, ‘The digital border: Mobility beyond territorial and symbolic divides’, European Journal of Communication, 34(6), 594. 

[3] L. Chouliaraki and M. Georgiou, The Digital Border: Migration, Technology, Power (New York 2022: New York University Press), 35.

[4] My PhD research included 14 life history interviews with immigrant activists and 6 open-ended semi-structured interviews with lawyers. Before the interviews, participants were given an information leaflet about the research and were asked to sign a consent form. The interviews were conducted face-to-face and were audio-recorded. They were also given the opportunity to choose the interview locations and all reasonable efforts were made to make them feel comfortable to speak. 12 out of 14 immigrant participants chose to waive the right to anonymity, while 2 of them preferred to remain anonymous. 

[5] For more information, see Infomobile, available at:

[6]  S. Pellander  and K. Horsti, ‘Visibility in mediated borderscapes: The hunger strike of asylum seekers as an embodiment of border violence’, Political Geography 66 (2017): 1–10, 6. 

[7] Press Conference, ‘44 days of psychological war’, clandestina. Migration and Struggle in Greece, 9 March 2011, available at:

[8] É. Balibar, ‘Μήνυμα του Etienne Balibar [Messago of solidarity from Étienne Balibar]’, hunger strike 300, 16 February 2011, available at:

[9] Sans-Papiers, ‘Solidarité avec les migrants en grève de la faim à Athènes’, hunger strike 300, 14 February 2011, available at:

[10] Message of solidarity, ‘Associació d’Amistat amb el Poble de Guatemala’, clandestina. Migration and Struggle in Greece, 29 January 2011, available at:

[11] Brigada Feminista por la Autonomía, ‘Solidarity from Chiapas’, clandestina. Migration and Struggle in Greece, 27 January 2011. Available at:

[12] For more information in different languages check out the call at:

[13] Hellenic Statistical Authority, ‘Demographical Data 2011. Table B09: Permanent population per nationality group. Municipalities’, available at:

[14] O. Karioti, ‘Οι Μανωλάδες γίνονται ΑΟΖ [When the Manolada cases become SEZ]’, Levga 5 (2012): 7–12.

[15] B. Bhandar and D. Bhandar, ‘Cultures of Dispossession: Rights, Status and Identities’, darkmatter Journal 14 (2016), available at:

[16] Article 4 § 2 European Convention on Human Rights, Prohibition of slavery and forced labour: No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour, available at:  

[17] European Court of Human Rights, ‘Chowdury and Others v Greece, Application No. 21884/15′, European Data Base of Asylum Law (2017), available at:

[18] Chowdury was seriously wounded on his leg, arm, chest and head. He stayed in hospital for around two weeks.

[19] D. Perrotta and D. Sacchetto, ‘Migrant Farmworkers in Southern Italy: Ghettoes, Caporalato and Collective Action’, Workers of the World 1, no. 5,  (2014): 75–98, available at:

[20] Enrique, ‘Blood strawberries from Nea Manolada, Greece’, Migrant Tales (2013), available at:

[21] D. Flores-Márquez, ‘Two countries fit within my heart: Transnational digital activism and political subjectivity in mexican migrants’. Comunicación y Sociedad, 3.

[22] K. M. Blee and T. Vining, ‘Risks and ethics of social movement research in a changing political climate’, Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change 30 (2010): 43–71. 

Costas Gousis

Costas Gousis holds a law degree from the Law School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) and has completed a Master’s degree (MSc) in Political Theory and Philosophy at the School of Political Sciences of AUTH. He was an AHRC Techne funded doctoral student whose research was on immigrant activism in Greece during the last two decades and received his PhD from the University of Roehampton in 2021. He has worked as a social researcher and as a lawyer in the field of human rights and refugee law. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at Panteion University, Athens and is also working as a project coordinator at Eteron – Institute for Research and Social Change.

Costas Gousis