On Kos, Detained Refugees, Migrants Say Conditions Inhumane

(AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos, FILE)

With most of the news media attention riveted on the overwhelmed camp on the island of Lesbos, refugees and migrants packed in an overcrowded detention center on the island of Kos almost within sight of Turkey say their lives are miserable.

They’ve been waiting as long as two years or more for asylum applications to be processed and hoping to stay in Greece after fleeing their war-and-strife torn homelands and using Turkey as a jumping off point to get to Greek islands.

They were featured in The New Humanitarian (TNH,) a site that writes about crisis areas and has a focus on refugees and migrants, a piece reflecting how desperate the situation is at the Pyli detention center housing 3,745 asylum seekers in a space designed for 816, according to data from the Greek Ministry for Citizen Protection.

“We feel like ghosts here; no one sees us,” said Aymen Alkhawlani, a 28-year-old Yemeni, as he peered through the barbed wire that surrounds the camp. There are a total of 4,100 on the island, most from war-ripped Syria and Palestine, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHC,) the site said.

Most come from Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep operating during a largely-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union, Greek islands being the favored destination point after the bloc closed its borders to them.

Pyli is the only facility on Kos for housing asylum seekers. Due to the overcrowding, residents have been constructing makeshift shelters outside the official perimeters of the camp, said TNH.

Residents are allowed to leave the camp, but they can’t leave the island until they are given what is known as an “open card” by the local asylum office. This process can take months, sometimes over a year, and is not guaranteed to all.

“This is a house for a mouse, not for a human,” said 40-year-old Yasser Qabani from Taif in Saudi Arabia as he walked around a crumbling stone building where families with young children have made homes from tarpaulin, using blankets as dividers.

“You can’t eat the food a lot of the time,” Qabani said, as children played with an old tyre on the concrete ground in the winter sunshine. “It’s undercooked, it’s like food for animals, not for humans.”

Behind the abandoned building at Pyli is a larger one, which has no windows or capacity for natural light. Around 100 people were living in this space – the rooms were divided by bits of fabric and the only cracks of light appeared from holes in the ceiling where large amounts of water had come flooding through during recent rainstorms.

“It was like a tragedy,” recalled Qabani. “Most of the tents collapsed and they had to rebuild them again after the rain.”