Fleeing War, Syrians And Afghans Stream Onto Tiny Greek Island : Parallels More than 124,000 people have arrived by sea to the Greek islands this year. But Kos, a popular tourist destination, has been the most unprepared for the influx of those in need of refuge.

Fleeing War, Syrians And Afghans Stream Onto Tiny Greek Island

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/432356529/432356530" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tourists flock to the Greek island of Kos this time of year. But this season, this summer, hundreds of desperate migrants board small, inflatable boats on the Turkish coast to try to make the short voyage to Kos. And as Joanna Kakissis reports, they have completely overwhelmed the local people's capacity to care for them. Authorities penned them up in a stadium and are now transferring some to a large ship.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thousands of migrants are stuck here on this island. The main port is only about three miles from Turkey. Most of the migrants come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They camp out in tents pitched along a seaside road. They sleep on sidewalks, in parks, outside beach bars and souvenir shops. Yesterday, I went to a stadium that's been converted into a registration center. Outside, three little boys in their underpants bathed with bottled water, their mom scrubbing shampoo into their hair. Everyone here was waiting for police to give them their temporary residency papers. Nizar Badra (ph) is a 33-year-old English teacher who fled the war in Damascus, Syria.

NIZAR BADRA: The situation bad because we don't find any help. We can't find now. I am so tired. I search, look for - for a room, rent flat. I didn't find anything.

KAKISSIS: Will you sleep here tonight, you think?

BADRA: If I don't find a room, I have to go to sleep here. Nobody help here, not police, not government here, to give our food or even a brochure for the island.

KAKISSIS: He set aside money to make this journey with his friend, the math teacher at the school where he taught. They're trying to reach his friend's son in Sweden, where they'll claim asylum. Ali al-Jowardi is a 20-year-old electrical engineering student from Iraq. He and his friends slept on garbage bags they laid out on the grass. Police herded them into the stadium earlier this week and locked the gate.

ALI AL-JOWARDI: So it was like a jail, no food, no drink, no toilet. So it was horrible - not just bad - horrible situation.

KAKISSIS: He pointed to a young man with curly hair and a bandaged foot, sleeping under a tree.

AL-JOWARDI: When we were in the stadium, we jumped from the wall to get food and drink, and one of my friends, he injured his - and hit his foot and head.

KAKISSIS: Aid workers are trying to help. I hitched a ride with a team from Doctors Without Borders to a beat-up old building far out of town called the Captain Elias. This used to be a hotel, but it went bust years ago. There's no furniture, but when we arrived, there are about 500 people, five times more than the building's maximum capacity. Constance Theisen works with Doctors Without Borders. She said the people of the hotel, mostly Afghans and Pakistanis, will not be at the front of the line for papers. Syrians seem to get preferential treatment.

CONSTANCE THEISEN: Waiting time for these people here is still 20 days on the island for sure.

KAKISSIS: So the only people who are fast-tracked are the Syrians?

THEISEN: Yes.

KAKISSIS: Does that cause resentment?

THEISEN: Yes.

KAKISSIS: Theisen says the island's mayor will not let her group set up anywhere else, so they're trying to make this building as livable as possible.

THEISEN: The first thing that we had to fix was water and sanitation, so we've done a big part. We've - but we still have some - a way to go. And we want to increase the number of toilets and increase the number of showers.

KAKISSIS: Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Union's commissioner for migration, said in Brussels on Friday that he's working with Greek authorities to deal with the crisis as soon as possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIMITRIS AVRAMOPOULOS: We all know that the situation on the ground is not easy. We know the great pressure on the country and the difficulties faced in addressing it.

KAKISSIS: More than 120,000 migrants have arrived at Greece this year. That's seven times more than the same period last year. Here on Kos, the government sent a giant passenger ferry with sleeping room for a couple thousand to serve as a registration center and shelter. It arrived yesterday and was being prepared. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Kos, Greece.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.