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Hundreds of migrants on the Greek holiday island of Kos have been locked for nearly 24 hours in a sunbaked soccer stadium without food, drinking water, or sanitation, leading an NGO worker and a local mayor to state that the situation there has finally got "out of control."
Kos is now at the forefront of a humanitarian crisis sweeping the financially broken country, with more than 7,000 refugees, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan arriving on the island in July.
About 1,000 people queued for hours on Wednesday to register with overwhelmed Greek authorities inside the stadium and for the second day fire extinguishers were used to control the jostling crowd. Overnight the police reportedly used a sonic explosion to maintain order.
"The situation here is very bad and police here they beat a boy, they beat a man, they beat children, it's too bad," Syrian refugee Laith Saleh, who is in the stadium, told the Associated Press by phone on Wednesday. "We can't go out."
Representatives of Doctors Without Borders, the medical charity also known as Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) which is working on Kos, deplored the conditions in the stadium, where most refugees were sent after being evicted from makeshift camps all around the town.
"What we see now is a completely disproportionate focus on security management of these people without the relative humanitarian assistance that they need," MSF's Vangelis Orfanoudakis said. "There are just two toilets, no access to water, they now have put a water hose for all the people. The situation is really dramatic," he said.
Reports claim that having been locked inside for more than 18 hours, refugees were fainting at a rate of four each hour in the stadium. Hundreds were seen climbing the 12-foot perimeter wall to go and buy food, and one man was taken away in an ambulance after he fell and seriously injured his leg.
A migrant woman faints during a registration procedure at the stadium on the Greek island of — Agence France-Presse (@AFP)August 11, 2015
MSF told the Guardian: "We have unconscious people coming out of the playground area, being carried by their friends and family, every 15 minutes. It is absolutely out of control. Nobody understands the sense behind it, or if there is any [sense] at all."
"This situation on the island is out of control," Kos Mayor Yorgos Kyritsis told Greek TV. "There is a real danger of uncontrollable situations. Blood will be shed."
Greece is the main gateway to Europe for tens of thousands of refugees and economic migrants, mainly Syrians fleeing war, as fighting in Libya has made the alternative route from north Africa to Italy increasingly dangerous. Nearly 130,000 people have arrived since January on the eastern Aegean Sea islands from nearby Turkey — a 750 percent increase over last year.
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Unlike during past immigration crises in Greece since the early 1990s, the refugees don't want to stay. Their destinations are wealthy countries such as Germany or the Netherlands, and all they seek from Greece is temporary travel papers to continue their trek through the Balkans and central Europe.
Migrants have claimed that the authorities have given them no information or directions whatsoever. "The people are not informed about the procedure," Orfanoudakis said. "They need to have access to health care, food, water, basic sanitation … together with protection for their legal rights, something which is not happening at all here in Kos."
But for many refugees, the chaos in Kos is not so bad as what they have left behind.
"Aleppo is the worst city in the world," said Dirar, an English graduate who wouldn't give his last name to protect family in Syria.
"There's no electricity, no water, no internet. My home was destroyed by a rocket blast. I was so happy to be alive that I took a selfie" he said, showing a picture on his mobile phone of himself in the wreckage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report