Dozens of migrants on the Greek island of Kos have begun registering on a passenger ship which will be their temporary shelter as they seek asylum, BBC reports. The first to board was a group of Syrian refugees, who have been living rough on Kos since they arrived. It is hoped the ship will help the island to cope with a recent influx of migrants, many of whom have come in small boats from neighbouring Turkey.
The vessel could provide temporary shelter for up to 2,500 people. The first migrants were allowed to board the Eleftherios Venizelos early on Sunday morning, after a delay of more than a day in preparing the ship. The Syrians will be processed as refugees as they are fleeing the country’s civil war. Correspondents say the Greek government is calling the ferry a reception facility, but critics view it as a detention centre.
It will be the place where migrants can apply for the documents they need to travel to other parts of Europe. Meanwhile, migrants continued to make the short crossing to Kos from the Turkish town of Bodrum. The Associated Press reported scuffles on Saturday night as people tried to board a small dinghy, while others were forced to bail water out of a small overcrowded boat which seemed to be sinking.
Until now, the several thousand migrants who have made the journey to Kos have been sleeping in tents, abandoned buildings or in the open. Clashes broke out this week as police tried to contain people being held inside a football stadium. And on Saturday, there were scuffles as different groups vied for a place at the front of the crew onto the ferry. Thousands of migrants have arrived this year on Kos, an island with a population of 33,000.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says at least 124,000 people reached Greece’s shores by sea in the first seven months of 2015 – more than seven times as many as during the same period in 2014. Nearly all the new arrivals in Greece are refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it says. UNHCR European Director, Vincent Cochetel, has said facilities on the Greek islands are “totally inadequate”.