Pressure eases for migrants in Kos, but stark needs remain

Published: 20 August 2015 10:16 CET

By Stephen Ryan (@stiofanoriain), IFRC, in Kos, Greece

Today, Greece is now bearing the greatest share of the burden of migration in Europe. Since the beginning of the year, more than 160,000 people have arrived in the country, the vast majority by crossing the Aegean sea to one of the many islands close to the Turkish coast. In the last week alone, some 21,000 people made the journey; half as many as all of 2014, in just seven days.

Kos is one of the islands that has received a large number of people migrating to Europe, as it is one of the closest points to Turkey. Each night, hundreds climb into small rubber boats, dozens in each, and cross the sea in darkness. They bring only what they can carry, as there is little space in these boats. It is not a safe journey; earlier this week, six people drowned while attempting to reach Kos, one of whom was an infant.

As the number of people arriving on the island rose over the past months, the Kos branch of Hellenic Red Cross has struggled to provide assistance to those who have so little. They have used resources raised locally to help those in need, but the assistance they could offer was little more than a drop in the ocean.

This week, relief items arrived from Athens, purchased using funds provided under the IFRC’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF). On Tuesday, the first day of distributions, some 350 people received food and hygiene items. Blankets and infant packs including sanitary items were also given to those caring for babies. “We are tryng to meet their most immediate needs but it is not enough. More support is urgently required,” explains Irene Panagiopoulo, president of the local branch in Kos.

When they arrive on the island, everyone must register with the authorities in order to be able to legally travel onward to the mainland. The number of people waiting to complete registration on the island, which peaked at 7,000 last week, has fallen in recent days thanks to the provision of a floating registration centre by the authroities. This approach relieved the situation, but it is only a temporary solution, and hundreds are still waiting.

Habib Jaami from Afghanistan is one of those waiting. Together with his wife, and his cousin’s family, which includes five children, they crossed the sea from Turkey last week. They explain that the two families fled from Afghanistan after receiving death threats. “I was famous in Afghanistan as a TV presenter, but I interviewed the ‘wrong’ people, and this is the price; to flee for my life,” says Jaami.

Each day, the pair come to the registration centre in Kos, waiting to hear the names called. They tell me that they would like to go to Germany, but are happy anywhere that their families will be safe. While people continue to fear for the safety of their families and themselves, they will continue to flee towards Europe. They have every right to do so, and we have a collective responsibility to help.