KOS, Greece (Reuters) - Mohammed Ibrahim fled fighting in Afghanistan for a better life in Germany but found himself trapped in a derelict hotel on the Greek island of Kos. He has little food and water, but still hopes to find a way to leave soon.
“All we do here is wait,” the 18-year-old said at the abandoned Captain Elias hotel, a two-storey building with a crumbling exterior where hundreds of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Asia have found temporary refuge.
“Hope is all we have. Allah willing, we will reach Germany,” he said.
The student said he has friends in Germany. But few if any of the migrants who are crossing to Kos from Turkey in inflatable dinghies want to stay in Greece, a country in economic crisis.
Instead, they want somehow to get to the Greek mainland, and then head north to wealthier European Union nations in the hope of finding more help or jobs.
Kos, just 20 km (12 miles) from the Turkish coastal town of Bodrum, has been overwhelmed in recent weeks by migrants and refugees trying to enter the EU through its shores.
Nearly a quarter of a million migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Nearly half have come to the Greek islands, the U.N. refugee agency estimates.
Local authorities are struggling to deal with the arrivals. A passenger ferry brought to Kos to house and register migrants is giving priority to Syrians, who are treated as refugees as they are fleeing civil war.
Those from other countries are often sleeping in places like the Captain Elias, which stands on the outskirts of the island’s main town. There dozens of worn out mattresses are laid side by side in the lobby, where one man rests on the reception desk, covered in a bedsheet. Nearby, women dressed in headscarves watch over their toddlers as they sleep on the floor of ceramic tiles, trying to avoid broken glass strewn around.
In what used to be the hotel garden, people hang their clothes to dry between dried up palm trees. Crouched over a bucket, one man is shaving inside a makeshift tent to shelter from the scorching mid-summer sun.
As dusk falls, families light fires to cook rice and vegetables sometimes provided by medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Others try to sleep huddled next to one another on cardboard boxed laid out on the terrace, covered in heaps of leaves and rubbish.
“There is no electricity, no children’s place, no privacy,” said Murcal Rezai, a 16-year-old girl from Kabul who arrived in Kos with her sister and parents. “The situation is difficult, so many cultures living together is not easy,” she said.
Julia Kourafa, a doctor with MSF, said the agency was doing its best to help but lacked the resources to feed so many people. It pitched a tent for a psychologist to offer support for people there, many of whom have fled violence in their home countries, but dozens of migrants quickly turned this into another place to sleep, she said.
“People are sleeping packed nearly on top of one another,” she said. “These are not good conditions.”
One evening in the past week, tensions flared at the hotel when two volunteers distributed food and water. Dozens jostled with one another for a bag of groceries, and Reuters reporters saw two men fighting over a bottle of water.
“Captain Elias is the camp of the poor,” said 22-year-old Ulan Mustafa, a Pakistani IT student who spends his days playing card games and soccer. “If Captain Elias closes, I can’t imagine what we will do.”
He recounts his perilous night-time journey with a group of friends to Kos across the narrow stretch of water from Turkey. His own family has no idea of his whereabouts. ”They don’t know if I‘m dead or alive,’ he said.
Writing by Karolina Tagaris; editing by David Stamp