Migrant surge overwhelms Greek islands

Greece's eastern islands are struggling to cope with a surge in arrivals of migrants and asylum-seekers that has undermined efforts to ease severe overcrowding at refugee camps.

The number of people reaching Lesbos, Samos and other Greeks islands in the eastern Aegean Sea is the highest since the European Union reached a 6 billion-euro agreement in 2016 to prevent migrants from leaving the coast of Turkey and heading to the EU.

The surge started before Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria, but there are concerns that it could grow much bigger. Since the offensive began last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to quell European criticism by warning that he could "open the gates" and send more than 3 million Syrian refugees to Europe.

Dinghies carrying migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are reaching the islands despite enhanced coast guard patrolling in recent weeks supported by the Greek military.

This is exacerbating problems at crowded refugee camps. A deadly fire at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos on Sept. 29 triggered riots at the site, which is at 400% capacity.

The Greek government promised to accelerate transfers to the mainland and expand the network of camps there. But those transfers have so far been outnumbered by new arrivals on the islands.

Human rights group Amnesty International has described Moria as "overcrowded and unsafe" and urged other European Union countries to help Greece settle asylum-seekers.

Authorities fear that if the arrival numbers remain high through October, a winter crisis will be difficult to avoid.

Greece's new conservative government says it also plans to detain migrants without the right to request asylum and wants to resume deportations back to Turkey under terms detailed in the 2016 EU-Turkey deal.

Migrants and refugees carry their belongings as they disembark from a ferry at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

An Afghan woman holds her baby following a rescue operation by a Frontex patrol vessel as she arrives with other migrants at the harbor of Skala Sikamias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, early Sunday Oct. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Six day-old Mohamed Helale, from Syria, who was born in Greece lays inside a tent at the Moria refugee and migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Saturday Oct. 5, 2019. ( AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A Frontex coast guard counts migrants and refugees in the tiny harbor of Skala Sikamias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, early Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019 photo. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Newly-arrived migrants and refugees look out from a van at the harbor of Skala Sikamias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, early Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Abdul Hanoi, 38, from Afghanistan, sits next to his daughter Yesna outside their tent in a makeshift refugee and migrant camp on the fringes of the overcrowded Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Friday Oct. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Pargoul Rahmani, 57, makes bread at a makeshift bakery in the overcrowded Moria refugee and migrant camp, Lesbos island, Greece, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A man from Kabul, Afghanistan, works out on a makeshift bench in the overcrowded Moria refugee and migrant camp, Lesbos island, Greece, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Children play near swings at the Moria refugee and migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Friday Oct. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A Syrian boy plays with a toy car at the Moria refugee and migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

People use the public wash area, in front of a pile of garbage bags at a makeshift refugee and migrant camp next to the overcrowded Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Aa boy from Afghanistan carries a sack of potatoes at the refugee and migrant Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Friday Oct. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Tombstones marking the graves of migrants and refugees who drowned at sea while crossing from nearby Turkey are seen at a cemetery near the village of Kato Tritos on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Saturday Oct. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

People from Afghanistan drink tea over the fire of a makeshift bakery in the overcrowded Moria refugee and migrant camp, Lesbos island, Greece, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Refugees and migrants in a dinghy are lit by a a Greek coast guard patrol boat's spotlight during a rescue operation near the eastern Aegean Sea island of Samos, early Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Migrants and refugees sit in a Frontex patrol boat in the tiny harbor of Skala Sikamias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, early Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Refugees and migrants are transferred from their dinghy onto a Greek coast guard patrol boat during a rescue operation near the eastern Aegean Sea island of Samos, early Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Life vests lay on a beach at the seaside village of Tsonia, Lesbos island, Greece after the arrival of refugees and migrants on a rubber boat from Turkey, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Exhausted Afghan youths sleep on the ground near the town of Madamados after their arrival with other migrants and refugees on a rubber boat from Turkey, at Lesbos Island, Greece, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)


Text from AP News story, AP PHOTOS: Migrant surge overwhelms Greek islands, Petros Giannakouris

Photos and Text by Petros Giannakouris