Refugees on Kos: Holiday paradise meets harsh reality | DW Travel | DW | 06.09.2015
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Refugees on Kos: Holiday paradise meets harsh reality

Vacationers on Kos are there to relax and wish their holidays wouldn't end. Syrian refugees, however, want to leave as soon as they can. Two worlds come together on one island. Bernd Riegert reports from Kos.

Holidaymakers and refugees standing near a stack of plastic bottles

Holidaymakers (r), refugees (l) at a water supply point

The small harbor of Kos City has everything vacationers desire: yachts, excursion boats, restaurants with blue-and-white-checkered tablecloths, souvenir shops, an old castle and cozy hotels with pools on the rooftop terrace. But at the edge of the practically round harbor, the scene changes abruptly: there stand rows of colorful, two-person tents. Dozens of exhausted women and men sit near them in the shade, with babies in their arms. Some children play with stray cats or collect seashells and real sponges. Sometimes they even run up to the souvenir shop which borders the makeshift camp for Syrian refugees. Tourists from northern Europe stroll along the seaside promenade. They go past the tents and the long line-ups at the police station, have a look at what's happening and take some photos with their cellphones.

"I alone cannot change anything"

Jeff Lauer

Tourist from the Netherlands: "Sweets for the children"

"Vacationers and refugees do not interact with each other," says Jeff Lauer, a tourist from the Netherlands who has been going to Kos for ten years now. Sometimes vacationers take pity on the refugees and give them water bottles or some food, he says. "My wife and I packed sweets in little bags and distributed them. The children were very happy and kissed my wife." He stresses that, after all, the refugees are humans, too, and someone should help them. But he shrugs his shoulders and says, "It is very odd to see this juxtaposition but I alone cannot change that." Many people back home tried to convince him not to go to Kos, Jeff Lauer says. "But that would have been wrong. We want to help Greeks by coming on vacation here."

Tourism threatened


Paraskos from Kos: "The authorities are not doing enough"

A hotel owner in Cos who does not want to be named says not all vacationers are as understanding as the Lauers. Many hotel owners are concerned about business. For example, a beach hotel outside Kos City highlights its refugee-free beach in advertising. Some hotels actually benefit from the Syrians, as they are not all poor and rent rooms for a few days until they have registered with the authorities. Others in the hospitality sector fear that the refugees will drive away tourists and that the images of refugees on Kos' beaches will have a negative impact on next year's tourist season. They are angry as they feel that refugee registering procedures take too long and thus prolong their stay until they can leave for mainland Greece.

Volunteering on vacation

Hannah Pool

Vacationer from Germany: "I can help"

Hannah Pool, a student from Cologne, Germany, and her boyfriend went to Kos for a beach holiday but their plans changed drastically in no time. Hannah Pool speaks Farsi and since many refugees also speak the language, she offered to translate for them. She now helps several families. The women from Iran and Afghanistan have recounted terrible experiences. Of course, Hannah's vacation is no longer carefree but the student is glad she can help with her language skills. Many refugees have no idea what to expect en route from Kos and Piraeus to northern Europe.

People watching ferry sail away

Ferry to Piraeus: leaving the misery of Kos behind

In the evening, the daily ferry to Piraeus arrives. Refugees who have waited days to register may now board - if they can afford the ticket. The vacationers on the pier watch the hundreds of refugees streaming to a special entrance on the ferry. In the meantime, Greek newspapers report on violent clashes between refugees and the local population on Kos and Lesbos. At night, new refugees coming via Turkey will arrive on Kos, the holiday paradise.