CAPTAIN ELIAS

Kos, Greece - 2015

Thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries arrived on the Greek island of Kos in 2015, crossing the four kilometres of sea that separate it from the Turkish town of Bodrum in small plastic boats. Between 50 and 100 people arrived on the beaches each day, although some days this figure doubled, or even tripled. The UN estimates that in 2015, arrivals in Kos increased sixfold compared to the previous year.

Turkish groups trafficking in human beings charged between 300 and 1,500 dollars per person, per trip. Some groups of refugees that were not intercepted by the Turkish Coast Guard were later found by the Greek Coast Guard (with the support of an Italian navy vessel) and taken to port, while others arrived on the Greek beaches of their own accord, and still others were lost or perished at sea.

Once they arrived on the island, the refugees headed to an abandoned hotel that had closed its doors 18 years before, located on the outskirts of the town of Kos, which is also the capital of the island. Hundreds of people, primarily from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq, lived in that rundown old building. Kos did not have a temporary shelter to host the immigrants, and the authorities did not arrest them when they arrived on the island, which means they did not assume responsibility for providing the refugees with food or medical care. Several NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and other volunteer groups took charge of aiding and feeing the hundreds of people living in the building while they waited to obtain the documents that would allow them to travel to Athens.

Alisina Husseini, 20, from the Afghan city of Maidain Warderk, had arrived in Kos five days earlier. He fled his country to escape war and poverty. “I don't know if my father is dead or alive. The Taliban took him,” he said, as he stood in the corridor of what was once the Captain Elias Hotel. “We sleep on the floor, and we only have a little food to eat each day,” points out Alisina.

Each day, workers from UNHCR went to the abandoned building to help process the documents required for the refugees to leave the island. Doctors Without Borders took charge of health issues and medical care, while Kos Solidarity, a group of volunteers created by residents on the island, distributed portions of food to each of the nearly 600 people living in the building.

The hours went by very slowly in that abandoned hotel. Hundreds of people spent the day lying about and killing time as they waited for someone to come each day with the list that announced the names of those who could go to the police station to collect their travel documents and pay the 51 euros it costs to take the ferry to Athens. They were merely passing through Greece - their goal was to reach other countries in central and northern Europe.