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Greece: Locking Migrants On Kos In Hot Stadium Without Food, Water Or Sanitation Is 'Abuse', MSF Says

12/08/2015 16:29 BST | Updated 12/08/2015 16:59 BST

A medical charity working to help thousands of refugees in Kos have condemned the "heavy-handed" way authorities have dealt with them, calling it a "state of abuse", after hundreds were pictured locked in a stadium.

Refugees were locked in the building without food, drinking water or sanitation again on Wednesday, waiting for hours to register with overwhelmed Greek authorities on the holiday island which is now at the forefront of a humanitarian crisis sweeping the financially broken country. For the second day crowds were controlled and subdued with stun grenades and fire extinguishers.

Inside the stadium, just three police clerks struggled to register hundreds of refugees. By early afternoon an estimated 300 travel documents were handed out.

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A medical charity working in Kos has described the Greek response to the crisis as a "state of abuse"

Syrian refugee Laith Saleh told the Associated Press the situation was "very bad".

He said: "Police here they beat a boy, they beat a man, they beat children, it's too bad.

"We can't go out."

Representatives of Doctors Without Borders, the medical charity also known as Medecins sans Frontieres 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.

MSF Director of Operations Brice de le Vingne said: “What was previously a situation of state inaction is now one of state abuse, with police using increasing heavy handed force against these vulnerable people."

He said the "great majority" of people arriving in Kos were fleeing war in Syria and Afghanistan, so despite authorities say they had no intention of improving how they handled the influx, they will "keep on coming whether or not the authorities are trying to stop them from doing so”.

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Greek authorities have been accused of having a "completely disproportionate focus on security management"

Another member of MSF, Vangelis Orfanoudakis, said Greek authorities had a "completely disproportionate focus on security management".

He 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."

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.

Tourism-reliant Kos, which received 7,000 migrants last month and has seen tourist arrivals drop about seven percent this year, is a stark study in contrasts.

Boatloads of refugees arrive in the rosy hues of dawn - as the last revelers are straggling out of night clubs and joggers run along the seafront. Huge yachts and cruise ships anchor just off the detention center, refugees sleep on bicycle lanes forcing Dutch cyclists to swerve, and bikini-clad tourists strolled past a man clad in traditional Iraqi dress.

Scores of Syrians landed early Wednesday, crossing the four-kilometer (2.5-mile strait) from Turkey in rubber boats - which, in many cases, local men rush to carry away for their own use.

"I feel good to be here, but I still miss my family" in Syria, said Omar Mohammad, a 25-year-old English literature graduate from Aleppo.

He said the three-hour crossing from Turkey was his third attempt to reach Greece in four days. On two previous occasions, Turkish officials had prevented him from leaving.

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.

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Kos crisis described as "state abuse"

So they end up in the old stadium or outside - on the beachfront, in tents, under trees, fully clothed adults washing in the shallows as splashing children play with the life-vests from their sea crossing.

Municipal officials weren't available to comment Wednesday, but have long been lobbying for the refugees to be taken to the mainland. Mayor Giorgos Kyritsis has pledged to get them off parks and public areas.

MSF's Julia Kourafa said some refugees had fainted from exhaustion or hunger in the stadium. Hundreds were seen climbing the 12-foot (3.6 meter) perimeter wall to go and buy food, and one man was taken away in an ambulance after he fell and seriously injured his leg.

Some refugees set up tents in the little shade available, while MSF teams were planning to erect awnings.

A group of young Syrian men from Latakia, who had just arrived in the morning after an Italian coast guard vessel from a European border watch mission picked up their boat in the sea, rested on a pavement behind the stadium and planned their next moves. Across the road, an elderly Greek couple handed out food to refugees perched on the wall.

The Syrians said authorities gave them no information or directions whatsoever, and were planning to enter the stadium Thursday.

"The people are not informed about the procedure," MSF's Vangelis 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."

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In the Psalidi area east of Kos town, the newly arrived Syrians' first question was where they had landed - which provoked strong laughter as Kos has an obscene meaning in Arabic.

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, another English graduate who made the crossing with Mohammad's group. He 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.

Kos crisis described as "state abuse"