Refugees stream into Greek is­land, meet wretched con­di­tions

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY NI­CHOLAS PAPHI­TIS AND DAL­TON BEN­NETT

Dozens of peo­ple from the Mid­dle East reached the Greek is­land of Kos from nearby Tur­key Wed­nes­day, join­ing thou­sands al­ready camped in wretched con­di­tions on what is nor­mally a tourist play­ground known for its sun and beaches.

Over­whelmed and un­pre­pared for the un­prece­dented in­flux, author­i­ties on the eastern Aegean Sea is­land have been heav­ily crit­i­cized for their treat­ment of the mi­grants — mostly refugees from Syria.

At least two rub­ber boats made land­fall just be­fore dawn in the Psa­lidi coastal area, and dozens of men, women and chil­dren set off on the four-kilo­me­ter (2.5-mile) trudge to the is­land cap­i­tal of Kos.

Their first ques­tion was where they had landed — which pro­voked strong laugh­ter as Kos has an ob­scene mean­ing in Ara­bic.

“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 oc­ca­sions, Turk­ish of­fi­cials had pre- vented him from leav­ing.

Shortly later, an Ital­ian pa­trol boat par­tic­i­pat­ing in a Euro­pean bor­der watch mis­sion brought in about 50 peo­ple res­cued at sea — ty­ing up be­side dozens of long in­flat­able dinghies seized by the coast guard.

Strug­gling with its worst post­war fi­nan­cial cri­sis, Greece has been over­whelmed by the wave of refugees and eco­nomic mi­grants, more than 125,000 of whom have reached the eastern Aegean is­lands this year — a 750 per­cent in­crease over 2014.

The coun­try is Europe’s main en­try point for peo­ple ar­riv­ing by sea, as the al­ter­na­tive route from north Africa to Italy has be­come in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous due to fight­ing in Libya. From Greece, the mi­grants move north through the Balkans, hop­ing to gain asy­lum, prefer­ably in Ger­many, the Nether­lands or Scan­di­navia.

‘The worst city in the world’

“Aleppo is the worst city in the world,” said Di­rar, another English grad­u­ate who made the cross­ing with Mo­ham­mad’s group. “There’s no elec­tric­ity, no wa­ter, no In­ter­net. My home was de­stroyed by a rocket blast,” he said, show­ing a pic­ture on his mo­bile phone of him­self in the wreck­age.

“I was so happy to be alive that I took a selfie,” he said. “From Greece, I will travel through Mace­do­nia, Ser­bia and Hungary to Ger­many.”

But first, those reach­ing the is­lands have to be reg­is­tered by Greek author­i­ties to get nec­es­sary travel doc­u­ments. Huge back­logs caused by the sheer num­ber of ar­rivals and lack of of­fi­cial pre­pared­ness have trapped thou­sands on Kos, wait­ing for the pa­pers that will se­cure them a berth on an Athens­bound ferry.

For the past two days, Kos author­i­ties have been evict­ing refugees sleep­ing rough in parks and streets, lock­ing them in an old football sta­dium that is the is­land’s main reg­is­tra­tion cen­ter. Many women and young chil­dren are among those in­terned in a sun­baked waste with­out shade or hy­giene fa­cil­i­ties.

“The sit­u­a­tion here is very bad and po­lice here they beat a boy, they beat a man, they beat chil­dren, it’s too bad,” Syr­ian refugee Laith Saleh, who is in the sta­dium, told The As­so­ci­ated Press by phone Wed­nes­day. “We can’t go out.”

Doc­tors With­out Borders, the med­i­cal char­ity also known as Medecins sans Fron­tieres, crit­i­cized Greek author­i­ties af­ter po­lice in the sta­dium used fire ex­tin­guish­ers and ba­tons Tues­day to break up a crowd jostling for pa­pers.

“MSF is very wor­ried about how the sit­u­a­tion is evolv­ing in Kos,” MSF di­rec­tor of oper­a­tions Brice de le Vingne said late Tues­day. “What was pre­vi­ously a sit­u­a­tion of state in­ac­tion is now one of state abuse, with po­lice us­ing in­creas­ing heavy­handed force against these vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.”

Mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials weren’t avail­able to com­ment Wed­nes­day, but have long been lob­by­ing for the refugees to be taken to the main­land. Mayor Gior­gos Kyrit­sis has pledged to get them off parks and public ar­eas.

AFP

Mi­grants climb over a wall at the sta­dium where they go through a reg­is­tra­tion pro­ce­dure by the po­lice on the Greek is­land of Kos on Wed­nes­day, Aug. 12.

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