KOS, Greece (AP) — Greek police registration officers working around the clock greatly reduced the numbers of Syrian refugees stuck in miserable conditions on the holiday island of Kos Thursday, where hundreds arrive daily in packed boats from Turkey.
A rudimentary processing center set up in a stadium on Kos was running much more smoothly after police issued temporary travel papers to at least 1,000 men, women and children who had been penned inside for up to a day without adequate shelter, food or drinking water.
But large numbers of refugees remained camped on a tree-lined coastal promenade outside the stadium waiting to register. Around 7,000 Middle Eastern migrants, mainly Syrians, reached the eastern Aegean Sea island last month — twice as many as in June — and up to 5,000 are thought to be stuck there waiting for the documents that will let them travel on toward wealthier European countries.
“The registration process is going very well, it’s very important to say that (police) were working until four in the morning yesterday and started again very early today,” said Kos mayor Giorgos Kyritsis.
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“About 700-1,000 people are being registered every day, and I believe that most of the people here will have been registered by the weekend, and the situation will no longer be so intense.”
An official for Doctors without Borders, which is helping refugees on Kos, noted the improvement but stressed that the refugees’ situation remains far from desirable.
“There is still no care being provided for the refugees,” Vangelis Orfanoudakis said. “Simply, the administrative process is more humane. But these people are getting no support, and no information on what they need to do.”
Greece is Europe’s main gateway for refugees and economic migrants, after the alternative route from Libya to Italy became too dangerous. More than 130,000 people have reached the Greek islands this year — a 750 percent increase on 2014.
The influx has overwhelmed authorities on tourism-reliant Kos. Refugees were first left to sleep rough in parks, archaeological sites and pavements. Then, after complaints from locals, they were pushed to the old stadium that lacks basic facilities. A handful of police clerks struggled to control and register the crowd, twice using fire extinguishers to stop jostling.
Police flew in reinforcements to accelerate the process, and some 400 people boarded an Athens-bound ferry late Thursday, a day after another 1,500 left by sea for the Greek capital. Many hundreds are expected to leave by ferry in coming days.
“I have been on this island for four days and I was trying to get this paper for two days inside the stadium,” said Khalid Moayia, 34, from Deraa in Syria, as he clutched his newly-issued travel paper and a ferry ticket.
The government is sending in a large ferry ship Friday to replace the stadium as a detention and registration center.
Mayor Kyritsis said the ferry is “the best solution available right now.”
“(It) will be needed to shelter these people in a decent place, and to house those who are yet to come, because this wave (of immigration) will not stop until the end of the crisis in the countries these people are coming from,” he said.
More than 200 people, mainly Syrian Kurds from the war-devastated town of Kobani, arrived early Thursday, in at least six rubber boats.
Many got an unexpected reception, with a dozen cameramen, photographers and journalists rushing toward the landing boats in the half-light.
“The boat is very small and we are many, many people in the boat. You know?” said Ali Mohammed, a 42-year-old English teacher from Afrin, Syria. “We faced a ship crossing us but we avoided (it).”
Next to him, a young couple held its weeks-old son in a cradle, while others took selfie photos or phoned relatives to tell them they had made landfall.
Another group of refugees was picked up at sea by a coast guard launch.