'Migrant cafe' owners in Greece's Kos broken by refugee crisis
KOS, Greece - Agence France-Presse
Migrants queue to receive food during a distribution organized by the local organisation "Kos solidarity" outside the abandoned Captain Elias hotel, where hundreds of migrants found temporary shelter in Kos, on August 17, 2015. AFP PhotoCafes lining the beach front on Greece's Kos that would usually be packed with holidaymakers have become the unlikely first port of call for thousands of refugees landing in the resort island.
Struggling to provide basic hospitality and services like toilets, running water, electricity and food, these cafes have tried to adapt and fill in for a remarkable dearth of government assistance to the refugees.
But with many tourists now avoiding the beach front -- one of the front lines of Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II -- as they choose to dine and party in downtown Kos instead, well-meaning cafe owners have started to turn the refugees away.
Eva Kitrina, who wears her platinum blond hair short and owns the Olympia Greek restaurant, says she has tried as much as possible to adapt to the chaos.
"The only way we could find to make this work was to put up a board (advertising) sandwiches we could sell to them (the migrants), because all the tourists were gone from the area," said Kitrina, who said the Olympia became a "migrant restaurant" last week.
"They came and had some cheap sandwiches, they came and had cheap tea and coffee," said Kitrina, who holds dual Danish-Greek nationality.
The Olympia is located next to a stadium that Greek authorities used last week to register thousands of refugees and migrants, most of them fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Aug. 11, police used batons and fire extinguishers to beat and spray 2,000 migrants waiting for hours on end in and around the stadium as a stampede threatened to break out, amid a shortage of basic services like food, water and latrines.
"It got out of hand because we only have one toilet, and they are thousands. It's not enough, we are only three people here: the cook, the lady who cleans and me. So how can we possibly be enough to help all these people?" Kitrina told AFP.
Now that Kitrina and her father have stopped selling sandwiches to revert to serving tourists Greek appetisers, pasta and pizza, a young Iraqi refugee asks whether he can use the toilet.
She shows him in.
"It's not their fault there's a war, and it's not our fault we have such a small island," she said.
A block away, business at the Yacht Cafe is also slow, except for a few journalists, regulars and the occasional migrant family.
Owner Theodore Tzagas, 35, says his profits so far this August -- the peak of the tourist season -- are 70 to 75 percent lower than last year.
"It's really sad and I feel really sorry for them (migrants). I feel sorry, I wish I could help more, and I help as much as I can, but I've got wages (to pay), I've got taxes," said Tzagas, who zips around Kos on a scooter.
Asked whether local authorities have offered to help his business recover, he points to the tents lining the beach just across the road and says: "If anybody needs help it's those people who are waiting over there."
Echoing calls by the UN refugee agency and aid groups, Tzagas says the Greek government should provide a reception facility for the migrants.
"If those people now had a better place to stay, we would also be ok," he said. "Tourists would be able to enjoy the beach again. As you can see, the view is amazing."
Nervously puffing a cigarette, Tzagas also blamed the European Union for the shortfall.
"They should have answered from the beginning when they started coming in ones and twos and tens," he said.
Debt-ridden Athens and Kos authorities have consistently blamed each other -- and the EU -- for the failures, with Kos's residents and the migrants paying the price for delays in assistance.
Amid the dearth, tourists have also stepped in.
A group of young German women could be seen distributing food and water to people living in tents, while a young American couple made trips to the abandoned Captain Elias hotel, where scores of people live in grim conditions.
Helene Broncano, who came to Kos on holiday from Copenhagen with her husband and two children, says her travel agency allowed every ticket holder to carry an additional 20 kilos (44 pounds) of luggage, provided it was clothes for the refugees.
"We will remember this holiday for sure, it has made me think differently about some of the people (refugees) we meet in Denmark," said Broncano, adding that she has discussed the crisis with her children.
"I will go back to Denmark and look up the Syrian conflict online. I realise now I don't know anything about it. I want to find out: what is really happening there?"