Greek police locked thousands of refugees overnight inside an old soccer stadium on Tuesday as riot police tried to maintain crowd management of recent arrivals, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, on the island of Kos.
The stadium does not have hygiene facilities, shade, or shelter. Medecins Sans Frontieres (the French name for the advocacy group Doctors Without Borders) estimated that about 2,000 refugees spent the night inside the stadium, including families with babies and small children. Several Syrian and Afghan refugees fainted because of heatstroke and one had an epileptic seizure.
MSF pulled out from providing medical care at the stadium around midnight Tuesday night when the situation became “a bit uncontrollable” and there was “no security for [our] team,” Julia Kourafa, a spokeswoman for MSF, told The Guardian. Greek authorities reportedly supplied little food and water overnight as many continued to faint.
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As more migrants continue to flee war-ridden Middle Eastern countries, many are finding themselves more or less trapped on the Greek islands, with a bottleneck building up on islands like Kos.
For the past two days, police have been evicting migrants from public areas on Kos to the open soccer stadium to conduct interviews, where migrants wait to potentially be issued documents allowing them to remain in Greece for up to six months. Tensions have been high. Police used truncheons (batons) and fire extinguishers to keep back migrants to prevent a stampede as they entered the stadium, the Greek publication Ekathimerini reported. At one point, police used a “sonic explosion” to maintain order at the stadium, according to the Guardian.
Fights also broke out on Tuesday as hundreds of protesting migrants blocked the main coastal road and staged a sit-in, chanting, “We want papers, we want to eat!”
“What was previously a situation of state inaction is now one of state abuse, with police using increasing heavy-handed force against these vulnerable people,” Brice de le Vingne, the director of operations for MSF, said in a statement.
At least 7,000 people arrived in Kos in the month of July. Syrians have made up 63 percent of all arrivals since the beginning of the year, with many others fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan the United Nations Refugee Agency stated. More than 124,000 refugees and migrants have already arrived by sea this year to the eastern islands, mainly to the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Samos, and Leros. The figure represents a 750 percent increase from the same period last year.
The flow of refugees won’t stop anytime soon. The local coast guard rescued 329 migrants in seven separate incidents on Monday.