Dozens of boat people from the Middle East reached the Greek island of Kos from nearby Turkey Wednesday, joining thousands already camped in wretched conditions on what is normally a tourist playground known for its sun and beaches.
Overwhelmed and unprepared for the unprecedented influx, authorities on the eastern Aegean Sea island have been heavily criticized for their treatment of the migrants – mostly refugees from Syria.
At least two rubber boats made landfall just before dawn in the Psalidi coastal area, and dozens of men, women and children set off on the four-kilometer (2.5-mile) trudge to the island capital.
Their first question was where they had landed – which provoked strong laughter as Kos has an obscene meaning in Arabic.
”I feel good to be here, but I still miss my family” in Syria, said Omar Mohammad, a 25-year-old English literature graduate from Aleppo.
He said the three-hour crossing from Turkey was his third attempt to reach Greece in four days.
Shortly later, an Italian patrol boat participating in a European border watch mission brought in about 50 people rescued at sea, tying up beside dozens of long inflatable dinghies seized by the coast guard.
Struggling with its worst postwar financial crisis, Greece has been overwhelmed by the wave of refugees and economic migrants, more than 125,000 of whom have reached the eastern Aegean islands this year – a 750 percent increase over 2014.
The country is Europe’s main entry point for boat people, as the alternative route from north Africa to Italy has become increasingly dangerous due to fighting in Libya. From Greece, the migrants move north through the Balkans, hoping to gain asylum, preferably in Germany, the Netherlands or Scandinavia.