The human geography of modern Eleusis is intertwined with human stories of refuge, economic migration, political persecution, and ethnic cleansing, all of which are facets of recent Greek political history, originating from different points on the global map and converging in Eleusis.

In the early years following the establishment of the Greek state, Lepsina was an agricultural village by the sea with a population of 275 residents. It served as the seat of the Municipality of Eleusis-Mandra-Magoula and the Province of Megara in the Attica-Boeotia Prefecture, according to the first administrative organisation of the newly established state in 1833. The choice of Eleusis as the administrative centre was based on its historical and geographical significance, rather than the population dominance of Mandra. The picture began to change with the establishment of the first industries in the city, which relied on the processing of the region's primary resources, olives, and resin. The early industries brought new people and absorbed a significant portion of the Eleusinian farmers.


The initial composition of the city

The 20th century found the city with approximately 1,300 inhabitants. During the first decades, changes in the social composition and appearance of the city were continuous. Technicians and labourers were increasing in number compared to farmers and shepherds, while the rapid development of the port's activity brought in new people, new forms of trade, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere that significantly contributed to the urbanisation of the city. The passage of the train through Eleusis further promoted its development as a resort for the capital. The pristine, tranquil beach with fresh fish was a magnet for Athenians and vacationers who socially interacted with the local population.


The Early 20th Century's first arrivals

With the transfer of the Dodecanese Islands from the Ottoman Turks to the Italians in 1912, the inhabitants of the islands faced Italian occupation, despite their desire to unite with Greece, and significant restrictions on matters of practising their faith and using the Greek language. Consequently, the first Dodecanesians, with the majority hailing from Symi, arrived in Eleusis and settled in vacant areas of the city, constructing their homes from the ground up (known as "Symiaka," "Stafida," etc.). Proficient in maritime professions, they primarily worked as dockworkers and labourers at Botrys, Olive Oil Factory, and TITAN, bringing with them various other trades and technical knowledge, including diving and wood carving. By the end of the same decade, their population reached levels comparable to the local population. They established workers' associations, sports clubs, and became an integral part of Eleusis to the extent that "when Panelefsiniakos (the local football team, the precursor of which was the Dodecanese) and Diagoras (a team of Dodecanesians) played, the Symians supported the former." Furthermore, they introduced new social elements to the local society, fostering a more progressive perception of women's roles alongside men, in contrast to the patriarchal organisation of the Arvanite society.


The Asia Minor Catastrophe doubled the existing population.

Eleusis, a city with 4,000 inhabitants, received over 2,000 refugees. Most of them came from the wider area of Smyrna, Constantinople, Cappadocia, and Pontus. They settled above the train tracks, outside the previously inhabited area, which took its name from the presence of the Asia Minor refugees and is still called "Synoikismos."

They brought with them their love and knowledge of music and founded the "Orfeas Philharmonic" in Synoikismos, which later evolved into the municipal philharmonic of Eleusis. They also brought their passion for good food and sweets, as well as their expertise in body decorations, clothing, and home decor. From the very beginning, they created an entirely new life in a new place, in the shadow of their lost homeland and the people they left behind or who they sought for years through the Red Cross. That's why when they shared a drop of wine, they clinked glasses and said, "Oh, good homeland".

These were populations with rich cultural capital that had a significant influence on the local community by enriching it with new traditions and customs, as well as a fresh mentality and way of life.

As the Eleusinian folklorist and author Vangelis Liapis notes, "A new world was being born. A new mentality began to flourish, wanting to express itself, to breathe in the new air. This explains the development of Eleusis with the opening of various centres there. The time had come when the young people of Eleusis felt the need to leave their homes and have fun."

It took about two decades and a multitude of stereotypical representations of Asia Minor women as "witches and pastrikes, a word that translates to clean but it was used derogatively for sex workers", which was an unfavourable starting point for a young man to fall in love with them, for the closed community of Synoikismos to become part of the local society. The taboos were shattered with the arrival of internal migrants from other parts of Greece, especially after the end of World War II and the formation of mixed marriages.


From every region of the Greek territory

After the end of World War II, particularly in the 1950s, populations from Crete, the Dodecanese, Chios, Corfu, the Peloponnese, Thessaly and Epirus relocated to Eleusis. These migrations were not massive or organised but followed the prevailing tendency of seeking better job opportunities in major urban centres. The survival in rural areas had become challenging due to the wartime occupation (1940-1944) and the civil war (1945-1949), which was fought with considerable intensity in some areas. The population movements to Eleusis paralleled the growth rates observed in the rest of Greece until the early 1980s. The newcomers primarily found employment in the industry, such as at TITAN, the harbour, and steelworks, and secondarily in the primary sector. They settled throughout the city rather than in segregated areas and formed marriages with the local population without distinctions or obstacles.


The Greeks of Pontus

From the early 1960s, Greeks from Russia, who shared common customs, traditions, and their own language (Pontic Greek), settled in the area known as "Leukes Papadede" in Eleusis. They moved as entire families, with grandparents, parents, siblings, children, ending decades of persecution and exile from the Pontus and Cappadocia in the steppes of the USSR and Kazakhstan. The solidarity and cohesion within the community are evident in all aspects of life after resettlement. Expressing an oral account of the time, "the houses are open. If someone needs something, a tool or a frying pan, they can take it and return it... we are siblings. We may argue for a moment, but immediately afterward, we are siblings again. It's a sin for someone to go to sleep while still at odds with another" (Lioni, 1993, p. 145). The reception by the locals is not warm. For the first few decades, the newcomers carry the stigma of being foreigners. The children are derogatorily called "little Russians," and the neighbourhood, originally known as "Pontian," is referred to as "Russian." Moreover, deficiencies in essential infrastructure, such as water supply and services, are quite scandalous.

Internal migration was considered an integral element of modernising society. Immigrants brought with them professions, techniques, arts, customs, and traditions, enriching the cultural capital of the receiving community. Marriages, coexistence in the factory, the union, the neighbourhood and the school led on a daily level to the inclusion of the newcomers. Even in cases where the local community initially received refugee populations with suspicion, it took 2-3 decades to overcome doubts and stereotypes and become fully accepted as equal members of the local society. Around the question, "Who are you?" in the social interactions of the people of Eleusis, a century marked by population movements and the life stories of tens of thousands of people in motion is traced.


Greece as a Destination Country for Immigrants

During the 1980s and 1990s, there was a nationwide decline and even a reversal of internal migration towards urban centres in Greece. The change in the country's political leadership, as well as Greece's entry into the EEC (former EU), led to a structured and EU-subsidised rural policy that provided incentives for support and a return to rural areas.

In the 1990s, Greece stopped sending migrants abroad and transformed from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. Balkan countries being a first destination, Greece received refugees from Albania, the war-torn Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, and all the former socialist countries. According to the 2011 census, around 485,000 Albanians live in Greece, which is significantly lower than the actual number as not the entire population participated in the census. The main employment sectors for Albanian immigrants are the construction industry, catering and the restaurant sector, as well as the primary sector, such as agriculture. The primary reasons for migration to Greece for men are job seeking, while for women, it's family reunification (Iosifides et al., 2007). They cover low-paid and demanding jobs that the population of the dominant group usually refuses to take. Their reception by the local population is accompanied by stigmatisation and marginalisation. Stereotypical representations of "thieves," "criminals," or "illegal immigrants" flood the far-right and conservative media, fueling the rise of neo-Nazism in the country. Until today, they constitute the largest national group of immigrant origin in Greece.

New migration flows have formed in the 21st century from North Africa and Middle Eastern countries, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, leading to the unprecedented refugee crisis in Greece in 2015 due to the war in Syria. The country received millions of asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the old apprenticeship schools in Eleusis's shipyards were transformed into temporary refugee hosting facilities. Dozens of families, as well as single women or single men, temporarily stayed 5 kilometres outside the urban area of Eleusis before continuing their journey to Europe or joining housing programs mainly in Athens. Greece, primarily through the Dublin II and III Regulations, has become the "external border of Europe '' and bears the responsibility of controlling the movements of third-country nationals who wish to enter within it.

Greek society is being tested. The acts of solidarity and tangible support for people in need are touching and memorable. On the other hand, there are expressions of anti-immigrant hysteria, as well as phenomena of racism, xenophobia, and violent attacks against migrants that seriously undermine common feelings of humanity, empathy, and social cohesion.

Main feelings

Participants in the two sessions of sociodrama on the subject of migration shared biographical information, personal stories, memories, and objects. Taking turns playing the roles of the local and the foreigner, they developed aspects of their attitudes towards what is considered familiar and what is foreign. What do we project onto the foreigner? Who is the foreigner? What does the foreigner look like to us?


In the role of the foreigner

When participants position themselves in the role of the foreigner, the alienated immigrant or refugee, they express despair, the pain of uprooting, nostalgia for their lost homelands, and sadness over their losses. The foreigner carries within them their place of origin, takes pride in their heritage, and tries to protect their identity by preserving customs, foods, and habits they left behind. It is essential for the newcomer to maintain their identity  on the one hand and to be accepted on the other, to feel like they belong, experience their differences, connect with new people, and become respected as different. In the emotions of the foreigner towards the local, anxiety, insecurity, fear, and anger are dominant. Their behaviours can take the form of keeping their distance, ranging from indifference to hostility, separation, and self-limitation. Conversely, it can take the form of closeness, an attempt to connect and get to know the local residents, and inclusion in the local community.


In the role of the local

As locals, the participants emphasise both nostalgia for times gone by when everything was better and the need to preserve the identity and traditions of the place in the present. They express the need to continue feeling safe in it and to maintain a sense of continuity over time, a sense of cohesion through the preservation of the local culture regardless of the changes that occur. The reactions of the locals towards the foreigner are intense and ambivalent. Negative emotions prevail, such as hostility, suspicion, and aggressiveness. There are visible signs of arrogance, hierarchical assessments based on the pattern that the fewer things in common, the less "like us," hence the more foreign and different they are, stigmatisation, and marginalisation of people from specific geographic areas. They keep a "safe distance" and refuse to accept the foreigner. Some express anger due to their presence, fear of the danger they pose, a sense of exclusion from immigrant communities, and finally bitterness about the injustice regarding the privileges that some of them enjoy. In contrast, there are moments where the participants express positive feelings such as solidarity, empathy for the difficulties, and compassion, while their attitudes serve respectively proximity and acquaintance and are characterised by the intention of acceptance and inclusion.


Emotion Detection

The reactions of the locals towards the immigrant populations that have been living in the area for decades were mainly negative. The physical division between the settlement areas, the treatment of immigrant communities as inferior, rejection and segregation were strongly expressed among locals. The process of performing the "counter-role", during which stereotypical positions and expressions were reproduced in a veiled or explicit manner, was difficult and provoked anger among the participants and the research community.

The sessions were highly emotionally charged. Recalling memories, invoking childhood, and the artefacts contained in the refugee's suitcase elicited feelings of warmth, connection, and nostalgia that touched all individuals, including the observers. Overall, the experience was reflective and broadened the horizons of some participants. It made them realise the perspectives of others while also raising questions about issues of diversity and participation. Most importantly, it contributed to questioning their own identity and position in relation to others around them and the dialectical relationship between self and others, us and them. As one participant said at the end of the meeting, "Where do I really belong?"


Emotions, attitudes, perceptions, and perspectives regarding significant aspects of migration are organised into 8 axes.

Each axis represents a digital mood board that includes the research results in various forms and serves as primary material for contemporary artistic creation. Sixteen artists were invited to create one work for each axis within each theme. 

You can view the artworks here.


Milestones in Greek history that have influenced the formation of the current local population of Eleusis.


 The Dodecanese islands come under Italian occupation. The first refugee flows of Dodecanesians to Eleusis begin, with the Symians being the most populous group. Having knowledge of the sea and its professions, they first arrive in Piraeus and from there to Eleusis in search of work at the port or in the factories of Eleourgio, Votrys, and TITAN.


With the end of the Balkan Wars, the Second Hellenic Republic, with the exception of the Dodecanese, takes on the form it has today. The territory more than doubles with the annexation of rural areas in Macedonia, Epirus, and Crete, and population movements are frequent.


The newly settled population in Eleusis reaches the size of the local community


From 1919 and within about two years, approximately 200,000 Pontic and Cappadocian Greeks settled in Georgia, South Russia, and present-day Ukraine to escape the Pontian Genocide by the Ottomans.


The residents of Smyrna and Western Asia Minor sought refuge in Greece, fleeing from the army of the Young Turks, which marked the end of the Greek army's campaign in Turkey. Around 2,000 people from Asia Minor settled in makeshift tents on uninhabited land on the outskirts of the city, above the train tracks, doubling the size and population of the city.


The Association of Asia Minor Refugees in Eleusis is founded. In the years following the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the refugee population seeks to integrate under conditions of economic crisis, political instability, and social division between anti-monarchists and anti-Venizelists. At the same time, the Asia Minor Greeks are an integral part of the country's industrialization project as they were the experts in the "undertaking" that contributed to the economic miracle of the Greek community in the Ottoman Empire.


From 1923 to 1940, the internal migrants of the Interwar period played a crucial role for those who would later arrive in Eleusis during the Civil War and the post-war years. Finding a job in a local factory was often accomplished through personal connections. A characteristic example are the Cretans who arrived in Eleusis in the 1930s


Within almost a decade (1940-1949) Greece experienced World War II and, at its end, the Civil War. Mountainous Greece is deserted. The population of these villages turned to the large urban and rural centres, and their repatriation would never be possible. In these years, in addition to immigrants from mountainous Greece, the first Chians and Peloponnesians arrive in Eleusis.


Immediately after the end of the Civil War and for about two decades, internal migration from rural areas to urban centres intensifies, following international trends. New arrivals primarily come from the Greek islands, the Peloponnese, partly from Thrace, and the mountainous Epirus. Eleusis, due to its proximity to Athens, serves as a satellite in the urbanisation of the capital.


The first association of Epirus of Thriasio and Perix "Agios Georgios" is founded. This Association operated until the imposition of the dictatorship in 1967, when it was inactivated.


The Thessalian Union of Eleusis "Feraios" was founded by a group of Thessalonians on the common desire to preserve the customs and traditions of their place. In 1973 it changed its name to "THESSALIKI ENOSIS ELEUSINOS", and in 2012 to "THESSALIKI ENOSI THRIASIOU PEDIOU". In the same year the Chios Union of Eleusis was founded.


The Cretan Association of Eleusis "Megalonissos" is founded in order to unite the Cretan element in the city.


By 1968, Greeks of Russia, of Pontian origin, were moving massively to Greece. In Eleusis they settle in an uninhabited area near the air force airport. Kinship relations organise the migration. They called the area "Pontic" themselves, while the local population referred to it as "Russian" as an attempt to diminish their identity based on their country of origin.


The Association of Pontians of Eleusis "Nea Trapezuda" was created by a group of young people and five years later (1981) it was established with a statute. Its members wanted to continue the Pontian tradition of their parents in their new homeland, Eleusis.


From 1991 to 1993, neighbouring Albania experienced the collapse of the Hoxha regime, the transition to a post-socialist era, the opening of borders, a surge in unemployment (40-60%), and a 30% reduction in real income. This led to a massive emigration of Albanians abroad, primarily to Greece and secondarily to Italy.


In the population census of the 10,000,000 residents in the Greek territory, 485,000 are Albanians, while other significant ethnic groups include Bulgarians, Romanians, Pakistanis, Georgians, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Egyptians, and more.


The Dublin III Regulation is signed, which, among other things, specifies that the member state responsible for registering and processing an asylum application is the state through which the refugee entered. Additionally, for cases involving individuals without valid documents, it allows for their deportation to the point of entry into the EU.


413 respondents discuss aspects of coexistence in the same city of people from different backgrounds.

38,3% believe that refugees are given the opportunity to integrate into the local community to a moderate degree
27,1% evaluates the integration opportunities as satisfactory.
17,9% believe that refugees are given the opportunity to integrate into the local community to a large extent
14.3% of participants with non-Greek ethno-cultural background have experienced moderate to a lot of social racism
39,2% of the participants consider that there is a xenophobic or racist disposition towards various ethnicities to a moderate extent.
35,2% believe that xenophobia and racism exist to a strong degree.
73,8% of the participants have grown up in Eleusis.
22.8% have moved from another part of Greece to Eleusis.
4.4% have moved from another country to Eleusis.
35.4% of respondents' parents moved from another part of Greece to Eleusis.
4.6% of the respondents' parents have moved from another country to Eleusis.
64,6% Of those who have moved from another part of Greece to Eleusis, have not felt foreign.
23% have felt like a foreigner to a moderate to great extent.