‘Mi­grant cafe’ own­ers in Kos bro­ken by refugee cri­sis


Cafes lin­ing the beach front on Greece’s Kos that would usu­ally be packed with hol­i­day­mak­ers have be­come the un­likely first port of call for thou­sands of refugees land­ing in the re­sort is­land.

Strug­gling to pro­vide ba­sic hos­pi­tal­ity and ser­vices like toi­lets, run­ning wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and food, these cafes have tried to adapt and fill in for a re­mark­able dearth of gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance to the refugees.

But with many tourists now avoid­ing the beach front — one of the front lines of Europe’s big­gest mi­grant cri­sis since World War II — as they choose to dine and party in down­town Kos in­stead, wellmean­ing cafe own­ers have started to turn the refugees away.

Eva Kit­rina, who wears her plat­inum blond hair short and owns the Olympia Greek res­tau­rant, says she has tried as much as pos­si­ble to adapt to the chaos.

“The only way we could find to make this work was to put up a board (advertising) sand­wiches we could sell to them (the mi­grants), be­cause all the tourists were gone from the area,” said Kit­rina, who said the Olympia be­came a “mi­grant res­tau­rant” last week.

“They came and had some cheap sand­wiches, they came and had cheap tea and cof­fee,” said Kit­rina, who holds dual Dan­ish-Greek na­tion­al­ity.

The Olympia is lo­cated next to a sta­dium that Greek author­i­ties used last week to register thou­sands of refugees and mi­grants, most of them flee­ing con­flicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last Tues­day, po­lice used ba­tons and fire ex­tin­guish­ers to beat and spray 2,000 mi­grants wait­ing for hours on end in and around the sta­dium as a stam­pede threat­ened to break out, amid a short­age of ba­sic ser­vices like food, wa­ter and la­trines.

“It got out of hand be­cause we only have one toi­let, and they are thou­sands. It’s not enough, we are only three peo­ple here: the cook, the lady who cleans and me. So how can we pos­si­bly be enough to help all these peo­ple?” Kit­rina told AFP.

Now that Kit­rina and her fa­ther have stopped selling sand­wiches to re­vert to serv­ing tourists Greek ap­pe­tiz­ers, pasta and pizza, a young Iraqi refugee asks whether he can use the toi­let.

She shows him in. “It’s not their fault there’s a war, and it’s not our fault we have such a small is­land,” she said.

‘Author­i­ties should act’

A block away, busi­ness at the Yacht Cafe is also slow, ex­cept for a few jour­nal­ists, reg­u­lars and the oc­ca­sional mi­grant fam­ily.

Owner Theodore Tza­gas, 35, says his prof­its so far this Au­gust — the peak of the tourist sea­son — are 70 to 75 per­cent lower than last year.

Asked whether lo­cal author­i­ties have of­fered to help his busi­ness re­cover, he points to the tents lin­ing the beach just across the road and says: “If any­body needs help it’s those peo­ple who are wait­ing over there.”

Echo­ing calls by the U.N. refugee agency and aid groups, Tza­gas says the Greek gov­ern­ment should pro­vide a re­cep­tion fa­cil­ity for the mi­grants.

Debt-rid­den Athens and Kos author­i­ties have con­sis­tently blamed each other — and the EU — for the fail­ures, with Kos’s res­i­dents and the mi­grants pay­ing the price for de­lays in as­sis­tance.

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