Migrants on the Greek island of Kos are turned away from a ship processing and accommodating refugees as Syrians are given priority.
KOS, GREECE (AUGUST 16, 2015) (REUTERS) – Hundreds of Syrian migrants on the Greek island of Kos on Sunday (August 16) began boarding a passenger ship that is to house and process them, in a bid to ease sometimes chaotic conditions onshore.
However, migrants from countries other than Syria found themselves turned away as Syrians were given priority.
Iraqi migrant Tayeb complained that Greek authorities didn’t understand the plight of people in countries other than Syria.
“I’m waiting but they don’t help me, just help for Syrians. Because, I tell you, he [they] don’t know what happening in Iraq and in Pakistan and in Iran. This a big problem. If I tell him I’m from Iraq, they fire me. Go, go from here. You Iraq, you Iraq, you from Iraq. Iraq is good, no wars. But he don’t know what happen in Iraq,” he said.
Greek officials had delayed the embarkation at the quayside in Kos for more than a day, working on plans to avoid disorder among the increasingly desperate migrants who have arrived on the island in dinghies and small boats from nearby Turkey.
The boarding of the car ferry Eleftherios Venizelos, which arrived in Kos on Friday (August 14), began in the cooler night hours in an organised and orderly fashion.
After some minor disagreements among the migrants over who would go first, they queued up on the quayside and boarded in groups of 20.
The ship, chartered by the Greek government, is to provide accommodation for around 2,500 Syrians in its cabins and an area for processing paperwork.
As the Syrians are fleeing their country’s civil war, they are treated as refugees.
This gives them greater rights under international law than those from other countries regarded as economic migrants who have also crossed the narrow sea channel separating Kos from the Turkish coast.
Nearly a quarter of a million migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
About half have come to the Greek islands, with numbers surging in the summer when calmer weather makes the voyage marginally less risky.
The Greek government chartered the vessel – which belongs to a company which usually ships tourists, cars and trucks to the Greek islands and across the Adriatic to Italy – to take some of the pressure off Kos.
Several thousand migrants are staying in hotels on the island if they can afford it, but more often sleep in tents, abandoned buildings or in the open.
On Saturday (August 15), about 50 migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran fought each other outside the island’s main police station, throwing stones and exchanging blows as tempers boiled over in the intense mid-summer.
On Tuesday (August 11), local police used fire extinguishers and batons against migrants after violence broke out in a sports stadium where hundreds of people, including young children, were waiting for immigration papers.
About 40 riot police were subsequently sent to the island to keep order.