Photo: Above Wajl Soliman and his friend Jkria Amar in the tent city. Click the rest of the photographs for other captions.
Fionnbarr Thompson recently holidayed in Kos, a Greek island a few miles from Turkey with lovely sunshine, way too many English people and an increasingly large number of refugees in the main town. He sent us this snapshot of how locals and refugees are doing.
He drags an imaginary dagger across his throat with an ironic smile at the mention of Syria. His once white t-shirt has turned khaki; his eyes have taken on a junkie’s brightness, standing out from his gaunt face after weeks of eating nothing but canned food and fucking breadsticks. He sits on a curb and plays on his broken phone, as he has been for the past few hours and probably for the past few weeks.
He is just one of hundreds of migrants stuck in the limbo of Kos town, the main town on the tiny Greek island of Kos, best known for all inclusive hotels, over-priced sun beds and 1990’s England away jerseys. The vast majority of the island does exactly what it says on the tin, resort towns full of souvenir shops and cheap kebabs.
But when you venture in to the capital, the seemingly normal Greek town has an interesting addition. Lines of blue tents are pitched by the old stadium at the harbour. Further inland there’s a makeshift camp of tents in a courtyard beside the police station. This is five months of refugees, not just Syrians but Pakistanis, Afghanis and any migrant from areas of unrest. This is Kos town.
It’s fascinating to subjectively chart the contrast with the rest of Kos. The normality of the town is unperturbed throughout the main markets and shopping streets. There’s outside seating at any of the many restaurants there, and opposite there’s luxury yachts, scuba diving schools and guided bbq boat trips to other islands. It’s interesting to chart the Greek residents of the town.
It’s quite wrong to say that you don’t see people who care; one of the first things I saw was a man distributing water to the migrants. But you don’t see a lot of support, or urgency. The Greeks effectively shut out the migrants from their life and work – understandable considering the drain this influx has been on their resources for close to 5 months, especially with Greece in such financial disarray – it’s a hard situation to cope with.
There is pro-migrant graffiti plastered on some of the walls around the city. The tag “No One is Illegal”.
Is this a sentiment widely shared? For me to gauge the public’s opinion, I spoke to a café owner situated right beside the police station, a main area where the migrants congregate.
The migrants have an unwanted side-affect for business’s too – tourists spending their money in places furthest away from the migrants.
I started off asking has it affected business? He explained how the daily profit earnings of the café have fallen from €2000 a day to €50, 11 staff down to 5 and 78 seats to 40. He had tried to help the migrants at the start with free sandwiches and drinks, but 5 months of such activity is not sustainable.
The Greek government’s inaction was a major point in the conversation. “I want these people to have a good life” he would say, “but just not here. It’s too small, too dependent on the tourism industry. The government isn’t doing anything.” He explained that the migrants came in their thousands, yet only a portion could be processed, leaving the rest in limbo. For Kos is merely a layover point on the long trek to Western and Northern Europe, not the destination.
The café owner pointed out “it’s not a migrant problem, it’s a social problem”. He also mentioned claims of migrants arming themselves with DIY shanks, storming the police station and blocking the road, as well as attacking the police in the old stadium. (claims that run counter to reported facts)
I then moved to talk to the migrants themselves. This was an easy task, as they were spread out around the harbour, washing themselves, sleeping on cardboard or resting on a park bench.
I talked to Madine Kanjo, a mother with a large family, and her husband Mustafa Siad coming from the previously besieged town of Kobane. They got over here from Bodrum like so many, just a few miles away.
She talked of how she had a home and a car, and now just rubble. She raised her hands in exasperation, not comprehending how their normal civilised country turned so mad so quickly.
Wajl Soliman and Jkria Amar were two new friends from Homs. Wajl had been there for 3 weeks, both heading for the green lands of Germany. “Ireland is very beautiful” Jkria said, accepting my offer of a cigarette. Wajl shrugs his shoulders at the mention of ISIS, already forgetting his old life in favour of his new.
It took a three year old Aylan Kurdi lying dead in the sand on a beach for anyone to give a shit. For the same newspapers who were slating any migrant to suddenly bless the situation with their ‘enlightened’ readers.
Maybe it is best for the situation for everyone to jump on the bandwagon for help. Because I’d much rather see those kind migrants helping society out and living an actual life, than stuck in the limbo of tent life or face down in the sand.
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