Greek cruise ship to provide shelter to Kos migrants

Crisis eases as registration backlog cleared – but people continue to arrive

A cruise liner is expected to dock at the Greek island of Kos on Friday to provide temporary shelter and registration facilities for the thousands of refugees and migrants who have arrived from Turkey to the island, where the huge jump in numbers has overwhelmed local authorities and added to the refugees' frustration.

In July, more than 7,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants – a twofold increase on the previous month – made the boat journey of about 5km to the popular tourist island, which has a regular population of just more than 30,000.

The Greek government moved to charter the Eleftherios Venizelos, which can accommodate up to 2,500 people on board, a day after more than 2,000 people, mostly fleeing war-torn Syria, were locked inside a stadium for up to three days with no shelter from the sun and with very little access to water, food or toilets.

Chaotic scenes

Amid chaotic scenes, the refugees, among them babies and small children, had been directed to the stadium by police on Monday for the purposes of issuing temporary registration papers, with which they can leave the island for Athens, where the overwhelming majority continue their journey to other European Union countries to seek asylum.


On Wednesday, as crowds built up outside the stadium, where only three police officers were on duty for registration, police resorted to tear gas and stun grenades in what Doctors Without Borders (MSF) described as a clear example of “excessive use of force”.

“This naturally caused great fear and panic among the crowd, many of them who have fled war in Syria. MSF later had to treat people with panic attacks as a direct result of this incident,” said the NGO, which is operating a medical clinic outside the stadium.

Heat exhaustion

Inside, refugees said they were afraid they would lose their place in the queue or not hear the police call out their name if they left the stadium to get food and water. The MSF medical team said it provided medical care to 62 people in total, about half of whom experienced heat exhaustion and fainting. Four people were hospitalised.

Although the authorities cleared most of the backlog of registration applications by Wednesday night, on Thursday morning up to 150 newly arrived refugees had formed a queue outside the stadium.

"Although MSF is grateful that the situation seems to be more under control now, we are shocked and appalled by the excessive force by police and irresponsible way which Kos authorities have handled the refugee situation over the past three days," said Constance Thiesen, MSF's humanitarian affairs officer.

“The number of people arriving is not the problem – the chaotic scenes are a result of the absence of a proper system to receive the number of people fleeing war and violence.”

After receiving their temporary papers, about 1,100 migrants were among the 1,800 passengers who arrived in the Athens port of Piraeus from Kos on Thursday morning. The ship arrived three hours late after it was forced to return to Kos two hours into the journey because a 17-year-old migrant woman had gone into labour.

More than 125,000 people have entered crisis-wracked Greece by sea from Turkey since January, a staggering 750 per cent increase over the same period last year and more than in the whole of 2014 and 2013 together.

Damian Mac Con Uladh

Damian Mac Con Uladh

Damian Mac Con Uladh is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Athens