No roof, few toilets, hours of waiting in the blazing sun - that's how the EU receives migrants on the Greek island of Kos. The humanitarian aid organization Doctors Without Borders is trying to help.
Migrants cannot get anywhere if they do not register with the local authorities. On the island of Kos, they have to go through a great deal of trouble in order to obtain registration papers. In July alone, about 7,000 migrants arrived on the island, which can be seen with the naked eye from the Turkish coast, after making the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece in small inflatable dinghies. But they really want to go to the continent, to Northern Europe.
Normally, about 33,000 people live on the island. At the moment, every fifth person is a migrant. Authorities have set up a registration center in the island's stadium to help cope with the crowds. In hopes of getting their papers, hundreds of people endure temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (85F) with no protection from the sun, no water, no food and far too few toilets. According to the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders, at one point there was no way of getting out of the stadium and many people climbed over fences to get food. Men, women, children, even infants were all penned-up on the premises.
The throngs of people, the sun, the lack of water, and, of course, the war and travel experiences have all led to severe exhaustion for many migrants. Members of Doctors Without Borders treated more than 60 people in the stadium in one day; four of them had to be transferred to the hospital, and one of them was a pregnant woman. "I do not understand how something like this is happening in Europe," said Florian Westphal, head of Ärzte ohne Grenzen, the German chapter of Doctors Without Borders.
As no initial reception centers or centralized accommodations are available to migrants, they sleep in parks or on the beach, where they have no food and no access to toilets or showers. Brice de le Vingne, head of the 15-member Doctors Without Borders team working on Kos, has severely criticized authorities. "They have clearly stated that they do not have any intention of improving conditions for these people because they believe that even more refugees would be encouraged to go to the island."
Westphal feels that this attitude is extremely cynical. "We, as the EU, would never accept this approach in Syria's neighboring countries," he said. "Imagine what would happen if Syria's neighbors suddenly decide to refuse refugees a place to sleep, food and sanitary facilities so that they don't get the idea of fleeing to their country."
Claudia Roth, vice president of Germany's parliament and a member of the Greens, has also been to Kos. She called the conditions humiliating and inhuman. "I've seen a lot; I've been to many refugee camps in the world," she said. "But what I saw in the middle of Europe was true hell."