In the final part of our two-part series looking at the story behind the photos of our ‘Black Route’ to Europe series, photojournalist Charles Ommanney revisits the island of Kos in northern Greece, the gateway to Europe for many refugees. The island has become so overwhelmed by those pouring into the country from Syria and Afghanistan each day that an old hotel was converted into a makeshift camp with no running water or electricity.

It is at the hotel where refugees wait for police to issue passes, which will allow them to leave the island and head to Athens where they will then begin the arduous journey north. Below, Ommanney relays his experience and shock at seeing the conditions of the refugees setting up camp at the Captain Elias hotel in Kos.

Kos is a tourist destination, but the port and the roads around the islands are filled with veiled women and men drying their clothes and sleeping in tents less than a mile from the middle of town where tourists are eating at fine restaurants and drinking pina coladas. On this island you have this awful hotel, the Captain Elias hotel, and because the authorities on this Greek vacation island didn’t have anywhere to put these people they would bring them to this hotel with no running water, no electricity. It became a cesspool. People were getting sick left, right, and center. And it’s half a mile from full on holiday tourists.
At the camp the mood was desperate. There was no security. People would come up and ask, “Why? How can this be happening?” These were people who were dentists, doctors, chefs in their home country. They were people who could afford to leave and would pay smugglers ridiculous amounts of money to move them through Europe. To suddenly arrive in Greece and be thrust into this, you can’t imaging how much they were questioning things.
The people of Greece are incredibly generous considering the economic state of their country at the moment. But I believe the patience of Greek people is at its end because the authorities don’t’ know what to do with such an influx of refugees. And they are affecting their livelihood of the locals as well. A man had to put down one of his cows because on of them had died from eating a bottle top left by a refugee passing through his field one night.

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