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Migrants And Refugees Find Temporary Shelter On Greek Ferry

Syrian refugees prepare to board the passenger ship <em>Eleftherios Venizelos</em> at Kos's main port on Sunday in Kos, Greece. The vessel will house more than 2,500 refugees and migrants who entered the country from the Turkish coast.
Milos Bicanski
Getty Images
Syrian refugees prepare to board the passenger ship Eleftherios Venizelos at Kos's main port on Sunday in Kos, Greece. The vessel will house more than 2,500 refugees and migrants who entered the country from the Turkish coast.

Hundreds of Syrian refugees stuck on the Greek island of Kos are now sheltering in a passenger ferry docked near the island.

Thousands — including many families from Syria and Afghanistan — are stranded on Kos, a resort island popular with tourists. There are not enough local police to register and fingerprint the migrants and refugees, who cross on inflatable rafts from the Turkish coast every day.

And the municipality is offering no shelters, so entire families are sleeping outside. Mohannad, a dental technician from the Rif Dimashq area of Syria, who only gave his first name, had camped out at the port with his wife and two baby sons. He and his wife slept on the sidewalk, cradling the boys on their chests.

They had purchased bottled water, baby powder, soap and crackers from the mini-market. He said he was ashamed that he and his family had to relieve themselves in nearby parks or building corners.

"We just need to use a bathroom," he said, comforting his 1-year-old son, Hosam, as the baby cried from exhaustion and discomfort over a diaper rash. "One pint of water and one bathroom, and many problems here [would be] fixed, solved."

The family waited in line early Sunday morning for a place on the passenger ferry Eleftherios Venizelos, which is housing 2,500 Syrians in its rooms. There's also an area where local authorities will be processing paperwork. The Greek government sent the ferry late last week, after police used fire extinguishers to control frustrated migrants who protested after waiting for days for their registrations so they could leave the island.

About a quarter of a million people fleeing war and poverty have crossed into the European Union by sea so far this year, more than half of them to Greece. The Eastern Mediterranean sea route managed by people-smugglers from Turkey to Greece is far safer than the Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy.

Most of those who have crossed the narrow sea channel between Kos and the Turkish coast are Syrians fleeing their country's civil war. In Europe, they're treated as refugees and have more rights under international law than other migrants.

That has angered migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran — who fought and threw stones at each other on Saturday. Early Sunday, hundreds of Iraqis protested after they were denied entry to the ferry serving as a shelter.

Most chanted and yelled, but Ali al-Jowardi, a 20-year-old college student who has been camping out in various spots in Kos for days, only slumped in despair next to the clothes he had just washed at sea.

"Do they not know that Iraq is also at war?" he said. "Why would we put ourselves in this situation if we weren't afraid for our lives back in our home?"

Those migrants who did not get a spot on the ferry must wait up to three weeks for their temporary residency papers. Even those who get those papers must wait days for seats to open up on ferries to Athens — which are totally booked.

Families with papers who are waiting to board those ferries for Athens are camped out along the seaside promenade in tents they purchased for 70 euros at local outdoors stores that are doing some of the briskest business in town.

On Sunday, their children bathed in the sea, wearing the life jackets they used when crossing on inflatable rafts. Nesrine Mohammad, a 29-year-old Syrian Kurd, dried off her 4-year-old daughter with towels an elderly Greek woman had given her earlier. She and her husband had paid $5,000 for their family to cross from the Turkish coast, which almost looks close enough to swim from the beach.

"Individual people have been very kind to us," she said. "But the political people here, they did not have any organization to take care of so many of us. That's why we have this miserable situation."

She and her family are planning to go to Athens and then northern Greece, where they plan to embark on a long walk through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria. Their final destination is the Netherlands, where they have family and hope to claim asylum.

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