In July, more than 7,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants fleeing war and privation in their home countries arrived to the Greek island of Kos, a two-fold increase compared to June. In the absence of proper reception facilities, most have had no choice but to put up tents in public parks and squares in town; or sleep outside, near the police station, without any access to latrines or showers. Food has not been provided to migrants and refugees since April. Though plenty of land is available, no facilities have been opened to shelter them.
Over the past two days, Greek police have been conducting operations to evict people from public areas, directing them to a gravel stadium on the edge of town that offers no hygiene facilities, no shade, and no shelter. This initiative was conducted without any attempt to install a reception infrastructure there.
On August 12, around 2,000 people were at the stadium, among them many families with babies and small children, queuing under the blazing sun in temperatures nearing ninety degrees, waiting for an opportunity to give their names to the police in hopes of being registered. The situation quickly escalated when the police, unable to manage the crowd, dispersed people with fire extinguishers. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have also witnessed harassment of migrants and refugees in public spaces, including private security men forbidding them from sitting on park benches in the city center.
“MSF is very worried about how the situation is evolving in Kos,” says Brice de le Vingne, MSF director of operations. “What was previously a situation of state inaction is now one of state abuse, with police using increasingly heavy-handed force against these vulnerable people. The great majority of people arriving here are refugees fleeing war in Syria and Afghanistan. The Kos authorities have clearly stated that they have no intention of improving the situation for these people, as they believe that this would constitute a ‘pull factor.’ But the truth is that people fleeing war will keep on coming whether or not the authorities are trying to stop them from doing so.”
MSF is currently providing medical assistance at the Captain Elias Hotel, a dilapidated building without electricity where hundreds of refugees currently seek shelter for an average of 10 to 15 days before being registered by the Greek police and receiving authorization to move on from the island. Most are never properly informed about how to navigate this process. MSF is also providing mobile medical consultations and non-food items to refugees staying in parks and public places.
“Eight months after MSF’s first call for the Greek authorities to organize decent and humane reception in the islands of the Dodecanese, specifically on the island of Kos, we are appalled to see that the Greek state has failed to do so,” says de le Vingne. “A site big enough to welcome all with minimum standards has yet to be designated. One is left to wonder what more the Greek authorities need to rise up to the occasion, take their responsibilities, and receive these people humanely and with dignity.”