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Greece to send cruise liner for Kos migrants

August 12, 2015

Riot police reinforcements and a cruise ship are being sent to the Greek island of Kos, where authorities are struggling with an influx of refugees. The measures come a day after clashes between refugees and police.

Griechenland Kos Flüchtlinge Ausschreitungen
Image: Reuters/A. Konstantinidis

Reinforcement units of riot police were deployed to Kos as hundreds of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants spent Wednesday penned in at a sports stadium, queuing to register with authorities.

Greek Minister of State Alekos Flambouraris said Wednesday that the government would charter a commercial ship with a capacity of about 2,500 people to host the arrivals process and provide refugees temporary shelter. The cruise liner-turned reception center would dock in the main port of the island.

The mayor of Kos, Giorgos Kiritsis, had on Tuesday warned of "bloodshed" if the situation there worsened, after scuffles broke out when police officers moved thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants into a sports stadium. The officers used truncheons and fire extinguishing spray to prevent a stampede at the stadium entrance. They had been moving the refugees to the stadium from makeshift camp sites along the tourism hub's roads and beaches.

About 1,000 people were reported to still be in the stadium on Wednesday, with three police clerks working to issue papers which would allow them to travel. Many of them wanted to leave Kos and make their way first to the Greek mainland, then away from economically struggling Greece to wealthier nations like Germany or the Netherlands.

'Dramatic' situation

The officer on Kos for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), deplored the conditions in the stadium, which offered little sanitation or shelter from the hot sun.

"What we see now is a completely disproportionate focus on security management of these people without the relative humanitarian assistance that they need," Vangelis Orfanoudakis said, adding: "There are just two toilets. No access to water. They now have put a water hose for all the people; the situation is really dramatic." Other MSF staff reported that some refugees had fainted from exhaustion or hunger.

The vice president of Germany's Bundestag lower house of parliament, Claudia Roth of the Green party, visited the island and described the situation there as "total chaos."

Most of the new arrivals in Kos are fleeing violence in Syria and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of people trying to escape war and poverty have made the often perilous journey to Europe this year alone. More than 2,100 have died so far this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean, while according to the UN about 124,000 have landed in the Greek Islands after departing in boats from Turkey. Kos, a popular holiday destination, has a population of just 30,000, but in the past few weeks about 7,000 refugees and migrants have landed there.

se/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)