Kos: reception and registration of refugees need more planning and resources at local, national and European levels

“We have seen at first hand the dreadful situation of the many refugees arriving in Kos, which will only get worse as winter approaches and the weather deteriorates. In the face of this great and unexpected challenge, I have been enormously impressed by the sympathy and spontaneous generosity shown by so many people in Kos. I was, however, very disappointed to see that the local authorities themselves have done so little to care for the refugees”, said Doris Fiala (Switzerland, ALDE), who chaired the PACE delegation which visited the Greek island of Kos from 24 to 25 October.

Noting how much local volunteer groups, NGOs and international organisations were doing to meet refugees’ and migrants’ immediate humanitarian needs, Athina Kyriakidou (Cyprus, SOC) observed that “Local authorities have basic responsibilities to ensure these poor people’s dignity and safety, but the small Greek islands of the Aegean clearly cannot cope alone; they need much more support from both the national government and European institutions”.

“The situation here reveals operational weakness in EU policy. For example, European Asylum Support Office assistance does not seem to be reaching Kos. The local authorities need to work, together with the national government if necessary, on proposals for projects that will make this help available”, said Eerik-Niiles Kross (Estonia, ALDE).

Commenting on the lack of reception facilities and the unsuitable location of key administrative offices, Annette Groth (Germany, UEL) argued that “There is an urgent need to find a site where reception and registration can be managed calmly, effectively and efficiently, in peace and quiet. It is in nobody’s interests to force refugees into the touristic heart of Kos Town, just because the coast guard and police happen to be nearby”.

Reflecting on the wider context, Christopher Chope (UK, EC) stated that “The present policy of giving uncontrolled access to Greece and thereby to the EU to everyone who crosses from Turkey to Kos is inhumane. I met many economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe who have been cruelly misled into believing that there will be a place for them in Germany. I saw substantial numbers of refugees who were not from Syria. The civilised and humane response should be to process applicants for asylum in Europe in Turkey and not force them into the hands of the evil people smugglers”.

“We would like to express our thanks to the local authorities of Kos for the hospitality and assistance during our visit, and our gratitude to the various organisations and individuals, including the many newly arrived refugees, whom we spoke to during our visit”, concluded Ms Fiala.

During its visit from 24-25 October, the Sub-committee met newly-arrived refugees and migrants, the local authorities (including the mayors of other islands similarly affected), local volunteers, NGOs and international organisations, and representatives of the business community. It also visited the coast where most refugees’ and migrants’ boats reach land, the Frontex registration facility at the port, the police station where fingerprinting and documentation takes place, the Médecins sans Frontières mobile clinic and the Captain Elias Hotel, formerly used as informal accommodation.

The Sub-committee will report to the Committee on migration, refugees and displaced persons at its meeting in Paris on 15 December, when decisions will be taken on further action.