Kos volunteers close down migrant food project

BBC — A volunteer group on the Greek island of Kos that was feeding nearly 1,000 migrants a day says it is closing after running out of time and money.

The 30 to 40 volunteers behind the Kos Solidarity Project were using their own funds to buy supplies and relying on donations from hotel unions.

But with little support from local officials, the project’s volunteers served their final meals on Sunday.

They now hope the Greek authorities will step in to help feed the migrants.

“We had to decide to stop giving out food,” George Chertofilis, the project’s organiser, told the BBC. “We just can’t afford it anymore.”

Mr Chertofilis, a local physics teacher, has spent the past two months leading a varying number of volunteers who cooked in their homes and spent hours distributing meals at makeshift camps and in the deserted Captain Elias Hotel.

“We had to prepare the food and that takes many hours and a lot of money,” he said. “We don’t have much money, we are not officials, we are just a group of friends.”

But without any immediate action from local authorities on Monday, there were no meals to give out to the thousands of migrants who have come to depend on the volunteers.

No one from the mayor’s office was available to comment on whether officials would step in to fill the gap, and Mr Chertofilis said he had had no response to his own inquiries.

Because of its proximity to Turkey, Kos has seen more than 12,000 migrants land on its shores so far in 2015, swelling the small population of 30,000 by more than a third.

“To begin with it was just 300 to 400 meals a day,” said Mr Chertofilis. “Then during July the number of people increased so much, there were about 1,000 people.

“The volunteers are all employed, everyone has his job to go to. We have to find the time to do this around our jobs. I’m a teacher so during summer I don’t have to go to work but many do.”

Kontessa Ikonoidi, a local florist, was another volunteer with the group. “Some hotels donate meals and we try and find those with meat in to give to the children,” she said.

“We add fruit and cans of milk that we have bought ourselves. It is very difficult but someone must feed them”.

Georgia Kasioti, another volunteer who works in local government, said: “I work very long hours so it is tiring to help here too. Sometimes I can only come at weekends.

“The churches and other voluntary organisations have many Greek people to look after because of the economic situation. We need help from the EU with this.”

The people of Kos are subject to the same capital controls as the rest of Greece, restricting them to cash withdrawals of just $60 (£42; $65) per day.

A local restaurant owner, who did not want to be named, told the BBC he was worried that if the migrants were not cared for, trouble could flare up.

“If they stop feeding them there could be trouble,” he said. “There’s no trouble now but when people are hungry there could be trouble.”

Mr Chertofilis said he did not want to stop the project but had no choice. He is still waiting for a commitment from the government to provide food for the thousands of migrants on the island.

“We have said to the mayor and the government that we want to continue but we don’t have any more money to give, we don’t have any more time.

“We are very anxious and worried about what will happen to these people today and in the coming days. All these people with no food, we don’t know what they are going to do and it’s not their fault.”