Greece strains to cope with migrants arriving on Kos and Lesbos [Photo report]

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.

Jubilant Afghan migrants onboard an overcrowded dinghy arrive on a beach on the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
An officer onboard a Greek Coast Guard boat talks to Syrian refugees on a dinghy drifting in the Aegean after its motor broke down off the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Syrian refugee Mohamed from Idlib holds his two-month-old daughter Malak next to his wife Kawsr after arriving on a beach on the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
A Syrian refugee searches for her belongings around a deflated dinghy on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, after she and about 60 others crossed a part of the Aegean sea from Turkey(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Syrian refugees take selfies moments after arriving on an overcrowded dinghy at a beach on the Greek island of Kos, after crossing a part of the Aegean sea from Turkey(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

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.

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A Greek police officer pushes back migrants waiting behind a fence to be registered at the police station on the island of Kos(Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP)
Migrants wait behind a fence to be registered by the police outside a police station on the island of Kos(Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP)

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.

Syrian migrants walk along a beach in Kos after arriving from Turkey(Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP)
Migrants from Syria arrive on a beach on the Greek island of Kos(Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP)
A Syrian refugee child wrapped in a thermal blanket is carried off an Italian coast guard vessel after being rescued off the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
A Syrian migrant child takes cover as a Frontex helicopter patrols over a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos(Antonis Pasvantis/Reuters)
Pakistani migrants run in panic off a dinghy as they arrive at a beach on the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Syrian refugees onboard an overcrowded dinghy react as they jump on to a beach on the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Syrian refugees onboard an overcrowded dinghy celebrate as they reach the beach on the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Lifejackets are seen abandoned by Syrian refugees on a beach after they crossed the Aegean Sea in a dinghy from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Syrian refugees sleep on a beach near the port on the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
A tourist swims off the coast of Kos as a dinghy carrying migrants and refugees from Syria and Africa reaches the Greek island(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Tourists lie on a beach as migrants and refugees from Syria and Africa arrive on a dinghy at the Greek island of Kos(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

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.

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