Greek island overwhelmed by refugees

It was supposed to be the first step on their journey to Western Europe. But now thousands of refugees are mired in despair, anger, and frustration on the scenic Greek island of Lesbos.

After perilous sea voyages from neighbouring Turkey, they have been stranded there for days, some for nearly two weeks, running out of money and desperate to get to mainland Greece and continue their route.

The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees mostly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Fights break out among the refugees as they wait in long lines for hours in the heat and humidity, after days without showers.

Families, sleeping on the streets, wander the seaside promenade of Mytilene, Lesbos’ capital, asking at the cafes and restaurants to use bathrooms or charge phones.

The small police force, overwhelmed by the numbers, charges in at any sign of trouble, beating crowds with batons to break them up.

Lesbos is one of several Greek islands hugging the Turkish coast that are the first stop for many trying to reach Western Europe.

Here, they must register with police and receive an official document. Without that document, they cannot buy a ferry ticket to the mainland.

But the registration offices are swamped . Brawls break out frequently among the hot, exhausted crowds, often met by police swinging batons and shouting “pisso!”, Greek for “go away”.


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