Migrant crisis: Greek ship at Kos takes on refugees

Syrian refugees begin boarding the Greek ship - 16 August Image copyright AP
Image caption The Syrians will be processed as refugees as they are fleeing civil war

Dozens of migrants on the Greek island of Kos have begun registering on a passenger ship which will be their temporary shelter as they seek asylum.

The first to board was a group of Syrian refugees, who have been living rough on Kos since they arrived.

It is hoped the ship will help the island to cope with a recent influx of migrants, many of whom have come in small boats from neighbouring Turkey.

The vessel could provide temporary shelter for up to 2,500 people.

The first migrants were allowed to board the Eleftherios Venizelos car ferry early on Sunday morning, after a delay of more than a day in preparing the ship.

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Media captionThe ship has been sent to accommodate Syrian refugees and migrants from other countries are being turned away

'Coming here for peace': Migrants' stories on Kos

The Syrians will be processed as refugees as they are fleeing the country's civil war.

Correspondents say the Greek government is calling the ferry a reception facility, but critics view it as a detention centre.

At the scene: Chris Buckler, BBC News, Bodrum, Turkey

At night the lights of Kos can be seen from the shores near Bodrum in Turkey. They make the island appear tantalisingly close for those wanting to head to Europe.

Early every morning groups head out into the darkness from beaches here - often in dinghies designed for tourists.

There are families among them. Parents carefully fit life jackets on their children in the hope that they can give them a better future in Europe.

But it is obvious that for some - both young and old - setting off into the ocean is terrifying.

This morning we saw real moments of panic when people fell in the water because the boat was overloaded.

It is immediately clear that many have little experience of being in a dinghy, never mind controlling one.

Coastguard ships from both Europe and Turkey patrol this stretch of sea and they are picking up people who have got into trouble daily.

This water remains a dangerous divide even if it is proving to be an ineffective border.

It will be the place where migrants can apply for the documents they need to travel to other parts of Europe.

Meanwhile, migrants continued to make the short crossing to Kos from the Turkish town of Bodrum.

The Associated Press reported scuffles on Saturday night as people tried to board a small dinghy, while others were forced to bail water out of a small overcrowded boat which seemed to be sinking.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Migrants begin the short crossing to Kos from Bodrum in Turkey
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Refugees and other migrants in Kos rely on food handed out by aid workers

Until now, the several thousand migrants who have made the journey to Kos have been sleeping in tents, abandoned buildings or in the open.

Clashes broke out this week as police tried to contain people being held inside a football stadium.

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Media captionMany migrants are desperate to reach Europe whatever the risks, as Chris Buckler reports

And on Saturday, there were scuffles as different groups vied for a place at the front of the queue onto the ferry.

Thousands of migrants have arrived this year on Kos, an island with a population of 33,000.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says at least 124,000 people reached Greece's shores by sea in the first seven months of 2015 - more than seven times as many as during the same period in 2014.

Nearly all the new arrivals in Greece are refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it says.

UNHCR European Director, Vincent Cochetel, has said facilities on the Greek islands are "totally inadequate".