Per la libertà di movimento, per i diritti di cittadinanza

Kos: where Human Rights are suspended

Leaving Bodrum. The images of Syrian refugees crowded in the harbour, behind the mosque, are just blurred memories fading along the beaches of Bitez, where the sand still returns migrants’ creased and faded clothes, shoes and babies’ dummies.
Kos is in the middle of the tourist season, and, a part from some Pakistani asolescents selling souvenirs outside the Passport Control Office, none of the visitors seem to remember about the migration crisis. The pictures of these autumn and winter are already part of a story that should be forgotten.
The reason for such quiet is not only due to the decrease in migrants’ arrivals after Turkey’s [[Daily murders take place along the border between Turkey and Syria, with Turkish police forces using violence and shooting at migrants to defend the 911km of border. The border is now being fortified by a wall which will impede Syrians to flee the war. Police violence has been registered during maritime operations. Migrants trying to pass the Turkish territorial waters reported cases of Turkish naval officers threatening or even ramming migrants’ boats directed towards Greece.]] stricter policy on defence of the national territory and fight against immigration, but rather to a geographical decentralisation of the structures designated to manage the migration crisis.

The detention centre. Before and after the Hotspot

The cells of the police station in the ancient building of Akti Miaouli Street are the only witnesses telling the curious tourists hanging around of this winter’s abuses and violence.

Kos, detention centre
Kos, detention centre

A laminated sheet of paper at the entry warns that anyone found to arrive irregularly in Greece after March 20 will be immediately arrested and deported to Turkey. Those willing to start the asylum procedures will be detained until the competent authorities evaluate the legitimacy of the request.
From the second floor of the inside kiosk, it is possible to see the exhausted faces of migrants asking for food and water from behind the bars to survive the hot days of summer. Like in a zoo, tourists covered with sunscreen and wearing white hats, pass by, take some pictures and, with an ice-cream in their hands, continue their tour among the local markets selling souvenirs.
Before being established as a Hotspot, this structure was used as a Centre for Temporary Stay for migrants arriving in Greece, who were forcedly detained in cells after the registration procedures. Those asking to start the asylum application where assisted by specialised officers in charge of registration, transmission of the applications to the Central Office in Rodi, and transfer of the applicants to the detention centre.
Men and women of different nationalities and religious groups were forced to live, though separately, in small rooms. Families with minors where instead divided: men were sent to prison, while women could choose to stay in a place different from the centre. The lack of proper structures has led to an overpopulation of the centre, causing profound psychological distress to its hosts. Detainees were forced to share cramped and dark spaces, sometimes with 50 to 65 people being forced to live in the same room. The overpopulation of the centre caused serious health problems among migrants due to terrible hygienic conditions.The lack of food, usually provided by independent volunteering associations, has contributed to weaken the already precarious health conditions of the people living in the centre, exposing them to infections and diseases.
Migrants have been forced for weeks, even months, to sleep on one another.
After the Centre for Detention and Registration was opened on May 14, registered migrants waiting to proceed with their asylum application left the police station where they were hosted to be transferred in a new structure. The police station now hosts new arrivals waiting to start the registration procedures.

Kos, detention centre
Kos, detention centre

Detention centre before Hotspot opening.

Kos, Police detention centre today
Kos, Police detention centre today

The reception centres

According to data released by the Coordination Centre for the Management of the Refugee Crisis on numbers and reception structures, there are only 345 migrants living in Kos since May 27, despite the island’s capacity would be of 1,000 people. For this reason, local authorities have transferred 176 migrants detained in Chios [[On May 20, the migrant population in Chios amounted to 2,368 people despite its capacity was limited to 1,100 available places.]] to the new centre of Kos.
Today, the operating structures in Kos include the newly-inaugurated Hotspot, situated at the centre of the island (difficult to reach without a car), and the Zikas Hotel, where vulnerable migrants and minors are hosted in apartments.
The distribution of food is carried out by different cooperating associations, such as IOCCC/Apostoli, Kos Refugees, Kos Solidarity and Mercy Cops.


After Hotspot in Kos was inaugurated, which is currently hosting nearly 250 people (men, women and children), there are now 5 reception centres for migrants in the Greek territory (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros).
Official sources [[]] guarantee that 35 Frontex officers in charge of the screening procedures are employed in the island’s structure. There are also a qualified team for debriefing activities, and a group of specialized workers appointed to eliminate or at least alleviate the emotional consequences of the journey and the abuses that migrants encountered. According to UNHCR, health care is assigned to two doctors working daytime and to another one working at night. With regard to legal assistance, the United Nations was assigned the task of providing information to migrants on their rights, obligations and asylum procedures.
However, the lack of an Asylum Service Office constitutes the major problem since the Hotspot’s first operational day: migrants are forced to deliver their application for international protection in Rodi, which is causing delays in the procedures’ progress due to the distance and the lack of transports allowing to reach the island.

The UN spokesperson affirmed that freedom of movement is guaranteed for the 85% of the people detained, who can enter and exit the Hotspot with no restrictions, though respecting the timetable put forward by the authorities. This, however, is subject to the Greek law on immigration, according to which migrants detained in Hotspots are to be considered under a temporary detention measure corresponding to a maximum of 25 days. [[Art. 14 of Law n. 4375/ 2016.]] This obviously generates a “post-Hotspot” problem, so that, without money and no possibility to move outside the Hotspot, asylum seekers find themselves forced to remain in the structure or to live in the street.

Although the island’s most relevant NGOs officers report an excellent management of the crisis, rumours from the military and groups of migrants testify the opposite.
In the last few days, pictures posted on social networks by some of the hosted migrants show the Hospot’s terrifying situation, denouncing a lack of legal and health assistance, malnutrition and bad health conditions of most of the children living therein.

Provided that Greek authorities require a special permit to visit the Hotspot, making it difficult to verify the actual living conditions of migrants, the UNHCR officers have declared that such situation was probably caused by the initial lack of organisation during the opening days and by the number of new arrivals from the island of Chios. They also referred that the situation in Kos is better compared to the other Greek centres.

Kos. Hotspot
Kos. Hotspot

Unaccompanied minors

Unaccompanied minors arriving on the island are settled in arrangements put under the supervision of UNHCR and Praxis.
In the Zikas Hotel, financed by the UNHCR, where Save the Children and ARSIS ensure a full-time presence of two psychologists and one social worker, there are now 62 minors, many of them of Pakistani and Afghan origin.
Other 25 vulnerable persons, families with infants and single pregnant women, have been initially transferred from the houses to the Hotspot and then brought back to the Hotel, where they are currently living.
32 minors are located in some flats in the cities’ outskirts, under the supervision of the UN and Praxis. Other apartments hosting vulnerable people are managed by Mercy Cops. As happened in the mainland’s military camps, some of them found underpaid and illegal jobs in the island’s farms. In the past, some of them also left the centre in the morning and never came back. The money earned are often used to pay smugglers for fake passports and ID cards to leave the island and reach Europe.


Structural shortages, informative asymmetries and power abuses. Hopes.

Structural shortages are one of the biggest problems of crisis management in Greece, leading to continuous violations of the fundamental rights on human dignity.
Starting from the cells where some migrants were detained – spots at the limits of survival -, passing through the new military structure whose problems during its very first days made migrants’ stay extremely uncomfortable, and concluding with the lack of an Asylum Service Office nearby the Hotspot.

In addition, volunteers express frustration and despair when talking about stories of ordinary abuses committed by the police station’s officers, as happened before in the centre of Idomeni. Food and water originally destined to migrants are instead being kept and consumed by police officers.

Inside the detention centre, it is almost impossible to get any information about the identity and the accusations of the detainees. People got used to be verbally harassed just because of asking information. Even taking pictures outside the Hotspot constitutes a risk for one’s life. The entry in the Registration and Detention Centre is only allowed to the authorised personnel.

For this reason, we demand that the UN takes a firm stance towards an increasing collaboration to denounce human rights violations taking place in the Greek territory since the beginning of the migrant crisis. [[The strategic importance of the UNHCR is not only underlined in the Geneva Convention, but cited in other several Directives, being it the only agency in charge of protecting refugees from possible human rights violations. Among others, Art. 29 of the 2013/32/CE Directive describes the role of UNHCR.
Art. 29 (1). Member States shall allow UNHCR: (a) to have access to applicants, including those in detention, at the border and in the transit zones; (b) to have access to information on individual applications for international protection, on the course of the procedure and on the decisions taken, provided that the applicant agrees thereto; (c) to present its views, in the exercise of its supervisory responsibilities under Article 35 of the Geneva Convention, to any competent authorities regarding individual applications for international protection at any stage of the procedure.

Art. 35 of the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, ‘Co-operation of the national authorities with the united nations’. 1. The Contracting States undertake to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or any other agency of the United Nations […] and shall in particular facilitate its duty of supervising the application of the provisions of this Convention. 2. In order to enable the Office of the High Commissioner or any other agency of the United Nations which may succeed it, to make reports to the competent organs of the United Nations, the Contracting States undertake to provide them in the appropriate form with information and statistical data requested concerning: (a) The condition of refugees, (b) The implementation of this Convention, and; (c) Laws, regulations and decrees which are, or may hereafter be, in force relating to refugees.]]

Even if hidden to the public, the signs of hanger and despair continue to gash the bodies and the faces of migrants, nightmares torment the nights of adolescents, and children’s cry resounds across the prefabs’ iron panels inside the detention centre.

Andrea Panico

Attivista, fotografo e ricercatore.
Mi sono laureato in giurisprudenza nel 2012, con un master in diritto del commercio internazionale nel 2015 e un master in African Studies nel 2018.
Lavoro come consulente di Diritto dell'Immigrazione.
Sono autore di inchieste e reportage dalle frontiere mediorientali e quelle europee.
Per contatti [email protected]