HomeResearch and policyPublicationsThe ‘New Humanitarians’: Vernacular aid in Greece

Since 2015, the ’refugee crisis’ in Greece has turned the Eastern Mediterranean migration route into one of the main entry points to Europe. In response, a grassroots solidarity movement has emerged in the Aegean islands that has become instrumental for boat-rescue at sea, and for camp service provision. These local and international volunteers, as well as refugees, identify as ‘New Humanitarians’.

This paper presents the emic aspects of the ‘New Humanitarians’, and focuses on vernacular actors and how they challenge the humanitarian landscape in Greece by examining their principles, practices, and discourse.

The system needs to change. The humanitarian world is not sustainable… it’s an outdated model. We are the ‘New Humanitarians’. Our way of work is a blue print. Minimum standards? We give people what they need.

Adil, volunteer from the Netherlands and NGO founder

A key finding is that the ‘New Humanitarian’ principles that they model revisit the existing ones—i.e. solidarity, hospitality, equality, and agency. Other findings show that the ‘New Humanitarians’ are reproducing governing technologies imposed by the government and other agencies. They do so while trying to contest mainstream humanitarianism and pleading for much-needed change in the European border regime and refugee management systems.

Cover image: A young refugee learns hairdressing in Greece in 2017. He was one of more than 62,300 people stranded in the country at that time © Anna Pantelia / Save the Children

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