Greece: The money’s gone but the refugees are still coming

Greece has overtaken Italy: Around 69 000 refugees have arrived in the crisis-ridden country this year, yet it has no functioning asylum system or reception system for asylum seekers. Most refugees live on the streets.

One man in Kos hastily declared an old hotel to be a shelter for refugees. Now, countless occupants share two toilets. They have no food or water. “Athens is completely overwhelmed by the refugee problem,” says Ska Keller, a German Member of European Parliament.

Keller was in Kos in May and says that the overall crisis in Greece has only exacerbated the situation. The Turkish coast is visible from the port of Kos and a rubber boat can easily cross the sea route in calm water. Subsequently, more and more refugees choose this passage, but also because many transit countries require visas, even from Syrians who are fleeing from the civil war to the Mediterranean. They now constitute the masses of migrants who land on Greek islands after their journey across Turkey on land.

Basically, the newcomers can expect nothing on the Greek islands. There is no social security, no transport, no food and hardly any accommodation; people camp out in the open. To register with the authorities, migrants walk for kilometers to find overcrowded offices and overwhelmed staff. In spite of the Dublin Regulations, most northern European countries do not send refugees back to Greece because of the intolerable conditions there.

Nonetheless, the refugees basically have to register themselves in Greece first and obtain a temporary residence permit so they may move around freely within the country. Syrians, as war refugees, are entitled to special protection and now their term has been extended by half a year.

Help is only available from private initiatives and non-governmental organizations like Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Some of the island’s inhabitants are also very helpful. Ska Keller said only volunteers provided food and clothing, an observation that has been confirmed by foreign aid groups on site, like Pro Asyl, a German human rights organization. On the other hand, the mayor of the island recently commented on how the frazzled refugees were keeping tourists away. But no one can really say if it’s the refugees or the general crisis in Greece that have affected tourist numbers.

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(Photo: UNHCR/S. Baltagiannis)