Tens of thousands of people, many of them fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan, have been making their way from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands in inflatable dinghies, overwhelming cash-strapped and understaffed authorities on the islands. The vast majority then head to mainland Greece and from there, try to reach more prosperous European Union countries by either walking across the Balkans from northern Greece, or sneaking on to Italy bound ferries from the west.
The increasing pace of arrivals comes on top of the roughly 124,000 migrants who reached the Greek islands by boat in the first seven months of 2015, a 750% increase from the same period in 2014, according to UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency. In July alone, there were 50,000 arrivals, about 70% from Syria. Most land on five islands: Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros.
Authorities on the islands are unable to keep up with the new arrivals and process them fast enough, leaving many living on the streets or in precarious temporary shelters. Tension often escalates, with fights breaking out among groups of migrants, or between migrants demanding faster processing and coast guard or police officers.
On Monday (10 August), a policeman holding a knife roughly pushed back migrants crowding outside a local authority building in Kos, slapping one man across the face as he shoved others, telling them to get back behind a line he drew on the pavement with the knife. The scene was filmed by an Associated Press cameraman, before another policeman put his hand in front of the camera and made him stop filming. The policeman was suspended and an investigation ordered into his actions after the images appeared on social media, Greece's police headquarters said in a statement.
Arrivals have become so frequent, they are now seen as routine by locals. On Sunday (9 August), local residents and hotel employees watched unfazed as a dozen Pakistani migrants punctured their life raft and gathered their belongings as soon as they landed on Kos, and asked for directions to the nearest migrant detention centre.
Greece, in the throes of its worst financial crisis, is straining to accommodate the inflow. Hundreds are camping out in a public park in Athens. The leftist government is now building a reception centre in the capital where it says migrants will be free to come and go as they please.
This article was first published
on August 10, 2015