SERENE ASSIR - The carcass of an abandoned hotel on the Greek island of Kos has become a grim shelter for scores of migrants fleeing war and poverty as Europe faces its worst refugee crisis in decades.

Dozens of people sit around the empty swimming pool, others lie on mattresses cramming the reception area of the Captain Elias hotel, while tents and huts cobbled together from cardboard and branches fill the garden.

The fields beyond serve as toilets, the fence as a washing line to dry clothes. "No one has come to give us food in four days. And even when someone comes, it's never enough. We are too many people here," said Ersha, a 25-year-old engineer from Herat, Afghanistan, who has run out of money after paying smugglers $5,000 (4,500 euros) to reach Kos.

The Greek island has come to symbolise Europe's shambolic response to the refugee crisis which EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos described on Friday as "the worst since the Second World War".

Last week their were chaotic scenes when overwhelmed police beat migrants with truncheons and sprayed them with fire extinguishers at a sports stadium on the island, where 2,000 refugees had been gathered for processing.

Many, like the residents of the hotel, had been sleeping rough on the island for weeks. "I have been here 17 days. I want to go to Athens, and then to Germany or Sweden," said Ersha, who travelled from Afghanistan to Greece via Pakistan, Iran and Turkey to flee "kidnapping and bombings".

"In Afghanistan, each man has a militia and you must obey somebody. I wanted another life," he said.

But he and many others at the Captain Elias feel abandoned. The hotel is not an official shelter, and therefore offers its inhabitants practically nothing.

Behna, who came to Kos from Iran, said, "The situation here is very bad. In the night there is no electricity, so we all sleep at 7:00 or 8:00 pm. It is very sad."

'People like you and I'

A couple from the United States drive up to the hotel, and dozens of people rush outside to greet them. They are volunteers who have come and hand out much-needed food, water and nappies for the babies.

At first, laughter rings out from the crowd as people grab at oranges, tomatoes and water bottles. But sheer desperation triggers a fist fight between two of the migrants, and it takes their friends to separate them.

Women and children look on, some of the younger ones crying in confusion. Sirus, one of the volunteers, is a sailor who lives and works on boats all year round with his wife. "We're ordinary citizens who are trying to give a hand. I don't know where the governments are," said Sirus, who is in his 40s and did not give his last name. "They're just normal people just like you and I, trying to make their way in the world," he told AFP.

His wife Brooke Foot handed out colouring books and pencils to the children. "It's a pretty desperate situation. It's overwhelming. There's not enough aid," she said.


The couple, who have only been in Kos for two days, are among a handful of locals and tourists who are stepping up to help in the absence of governmental assistance. "There is no organised system for food distribution for people at the Captain Elias," said UN refugee agency spokeswoman Stella Nanou. "It's not an official shelter; we call on authorities to designate a specific place where those people can go," she said.

Athens and Kos authorities blame each other - and the European Union - for the shortfall. "The immigration minister is responsible for this place being so hellish... The city council does what it has to do, we are collecting the rubbish three times a day," Kos Mayor George Kiritsis told AFP.

Immigration Minister Tassia Christodoulopulous accused Kiritsis this week of "sabotaging" bids to create reception areas for the migrants, "thinking he can stop the influx of migrants this way."

The European Union, which has come under fire from rights groups over its handling of the migrant crisis, pledged Friday to fast-track new funding for Greece. But UNHCR's Nanou feared the funding might come too late. "The people are here now, they are hungry now," she said.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has provided some assistance at the hotel, says authorities need to act fast.

"This place is unacceptable for people to live," MSF spokeswoman Julia Kourafa said. "It's unacceptable to have people staying for more than 20 to 25 days in this place without electricity, without food... We ask the authorities to change that, to take responsibility."