GREECE

Syrian, Iraqi migrants squat in Greek police station

Kos, an island located between Greece and Turkey, is a tourist destination famous for its picturesque villages, beaches and Venetian ruins. But if you take a look inside one of its police stations, you’ll find hundreds of migrants.

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A police station on the island of Kos, in Greece, has turned into into a Syrian and Iraqi refugee camp. Photos by Maître Cama, a lawyer from Athens.

Kos, an island located between Greece and Turkey, is a tourist destination famous for its picturesque villages, beaches and Venetian ruins. But if you take a look inside one of its police stations, you’ll find hundreds of migrants.

During a visit to the island, a lawyer from Athens sent the FRANCE 24 Observers team photos of the migrants – who are mainly from Syria and Iraq – in a police station in Kos, one of the Greek islands of the Dodecanese archipelago, a few kilometres away from Turkey’s shores. Around a hundred of them are occupying in the building 24 hours a day.

Kos residents distribute goods to the refugees. Photos prises par un avocat athénien lors d'une distribution de vivres par des habitants de l'île de Kos.

The Athens police union has expressed concern about the situation because this particular police station in Kos has now become permanently occupied. According to the union president, Antonis Kydonakis, “not only do the migrants live in deplorable conditions, in a place that would normally have a maximum capacity of 30 people, but they’re also denying the policemen access to their workplace”. He explained that, “some of the migrants are sick” and raised concerns over the health of policemen who come into contact with them. Kos policemen and coastguards have staged several demonstrations over the past few days, in the hope of drawing the government’s attention to the problem.

Kos coast guards and police officers protesting in late September. Their banners read: "The minister isn't giving us any answers." Photo published on the website Dimokratiki.gr.

 

According to the police union president, the majority of the immigrants are using the police station as a squat while they wait for official documents. Some have already obtained provisional documents allowing them to remain in Greece for at least 12 months, but have yet to leave the station.

"The director of a hotel chain is allowing some refugees to stay in his rooms"

Pavlos Patsis is a presenter for the radio station City 93 in Kos. He makes daily appeals for donations to help the Syrian refugees.

Unfortunately, we’re not just talking about this police station – several buildings on the island are currently occupied by Syrian or Iraqi refugees who have crossed the Aegean Sea [coming over from Turkey]. As soon as they set foot on a Dodecanese island, they know that they’re in Europe. But the situation is very worrisome, since waves of migrants arrive every day and they don’t all acquire political refugee status.

Obviously some people on the island are very concerned about the continued operation of public services like the police, but also about tourism. They are in the minority, though, and there’s a wide-spread sense of solidarity. People take turns to provide the refugees with blankets, water and food. The manager of one of the island’s hotel chains has even stopped renting out some of his rooms to guests, letting migrants stay in them instead. Many people in Kos come from migrant families who settled here centuries ago. They sympathise with their situation.

Many refugees are waiting to get temporary residency permits. In the meantime, they stay in the police station. 

Over 31,000 refugees arrived in Greece in 2014

According to Amnesty International, since August 2012, 188 refugees have lost their lives while trying to sail from Turkey to Greece. The majority came from Syria and Afghanistan.

In early September, Greece alerted its European partners to a “dramatic” increase in migration across its sea borders in 2014, and asked for an extra €63 million in order to tackle the situation. Ministerial forecasts indicate that more than 31,000 migrants may cross the Aegean Sea between now and the end of the year.

Post written with France 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).