Kos: still so much to do

Published: 8 September 2015 23:10 CET

Óscar Velasco, IFRC Emergency Communication Delegate, Greece

The area around the registration centre on the Greek island of Kos presents a scene that is difficult to understand as something happening in the European Union. 

There are hundreds of people in sight – mostly young men, but also entire families with children– sleeping on the street. The luckiest people are in tents, the less lucky ones are on cardboard on the ground. There are endless queues outside the police centre; spontaneous riots to demand faster registration procedures and young people and children bathing in the crystal-clear waters. This is normal life on this eastern island in the Dodecanese.

An estimated 200,000 migrants have so far crossed into Greece this year. Over the last few weeks, with the end of the summer in sight, the number of people arriving has increased exponentially, a 750% increase in eight months compared to the same period the previous year.

They set out from the Turkish city of Bodrum in the middle of the night, in inflatable dinghies carrying between 10 and 50 people, and arrive at dawn. The sea voyage takes around two and a half hours to cover four kilometres. To make this crossing, each person has to pay between 1,000 and 1,500 euros.

The influx of vulnerable migrants into Kos each day is estimated to have passed the thousand mark. Around 6,000 people are believed to be staying on the island at the moment. They come from Syria, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sub-Saharan Africa. They left behind wars, armed conflicts, hardship, fear. But now they face new challenges, plagued by uncertainty, on their long journey north.

"The humanitarian situation on Kos is desperate, and we really do need help from Europe to deal with it," says Irina Panagiotopoulou, a volunteer and president of the local Hellenic Red Cross branch on Kos. A couple of afternoons a week, Irina takes time from her small tourist business to lead a team of 30 volunteers who distribute food parcels, hygiene kits, nappies, sleeping bags and other basic necessities. More is needed to assist the most vulnerable.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an appeal to meet the basic needs of 45,000 vulnerable migrants in Greece. Red Cross Societies in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, who are bearing the brunt of the largest migration flow in years, are also responding to the situation.

The current humanitarian challenge will, however, undoubtedly require a much wider, coordinated response on a European scale to mobilize resources and encourage solidarity in receiving and protecting the most vulnerable and migrants in every city and town across Europe.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 190 member National Societies . As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright