Migrants locked in football stadium on Greek island of Kos
Published 12/08/2015 | 11:53
More than 1,000 refugees, locked in a sunbaked football stadium without food, drinking water or sanitation, queued for hours to register with Greek authorities on the island of Kos.
After sending police reinforcements, the government promised to charter a commercial ship to house up to 2,500 immigrants on the island where authorities have been overwhelmed by a spike in arrivals.
Alekos Flambouraris, an aide to the prime minister, said the vessel would be used to provide shelter and check documents. More details of the plan were to be announced tomorrow, his office said.
The order to charter the ship was given after violence broke out in front of a police station on the holiday island, where migrants were lining up to receive temporary residence documents.
Greece has become the main gateway to Europe for tens of thousands of refugees and economic migrants, mainly Syrians fleeing war, as fighting in Libya has made the alternative route from north Africa to Italy increasingly dangerous. Nearly 130,000 people have arrived since January on the eastern Aegean Sea islands from nearby Turkey - a 750% increase over last year.
Kos mayor Giorgos Kyritsis welcomed the promised ship, but complained that the radical left-led government did little to help his island until Mr Flambouraris stepped in.
"The government was asleep," he told private Skai TV. "How come (now) we can talk normally with one minister?"
Tourism-reliant Kos, which received 7,000 migrants last month and has seen tourist arrivals drop by about 7% this year, is a stark study in contrasts.
Boatloads of refugees arrive at dawn - as the last of the revellers are straggling out of night clubs and joggers run along the seafront. Mega yachts and cruise ships anchor just off the detention centre, refugees sleep on bicycle lanes forcing cycling tourists to swerve, and bikini-clad visitors stroll along next to a man in a traditional Iraqi dress.
Scores of Syrians landed early today, crossing the 2.5-mile strait from Turkey in rubber boats - which, in many cases, local men rush to carry away for their own use.
"I feel good to be here, but I still miss my family" in Syria, said Omar Mohammad, a 25-year-old English literature graduate from Aleppo.
He said the three-hour crossing from Turkey was his third attempt to reach Greece in four days. On two previous occasions, Turkish officials had prevented him from leaving.
Unlike during past immigration crises in Greece since the early 1990s, this time the refugees don't want to stay. Their destinations are wealthy countries such as Germany or the Netherlands, and all they seek from Greece is temporary travel papers to continue their trek through the Balkans and central Europe.
So they end up in the old football stadium or outside on the beachfront, in tents, or under trees.
Inside the stadium, three police clerks were struggling to register hundreds of refugees, and for the second day used fire-extinguishers to control the jostling crowd. An estimated 300 travel documents were handed out by early afternoon.
The office on Kos for Doctors Without Borders, the medical charity, strongly deplored the conditions in the stadium, where most refugees were sent after being evicted from makeshift camps all around the town.
"What we see now is a completely disproportionate focus on security management of these people without the relative humanitarian assistance that they need," said Vangelis Orfanoudakis from the charity.
"There are just two toilets. No access to water. They now have put a water hose for all the people, the situation is really dramatic," he said.