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Refugee impact on Greek Islands

Kos refugees

Photo UNHCR/J. Akkash

Some Greek Islands are still suffering a drop in tourism because of the refugee crisis despite little evidence of any real problems for holidaymakers.

Islands lying in the north Aegean and along the Turkish coast have suffered a fall in tourist visitors this year while islands to the west Greece, in the Ionian in particular, have enjoyed a tourism boom.

Sunseekers appear to have headed west to avoid those refugees who arrived from Turkey over the winter months and still held in camps and other centres.

Lurid tales of beggars and violent protest have filled the British media, especially the low-end tabloid press which has always delighted in the sort of exaggeration that sells more newspapers.

Yet, on recent visits to Leros and Kos I was unable to find any evidence of contact between refugees and tourists yet these islands are among those who have suffered biggest fall in visitor numbers this year.

Greece was prepared for another record-breaking holiday season this year and tourism has been the one bright spot in the country's economic crisis.

The influx of refugees from Turkey certainly caused problems and, at one time, man islands such as Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Kos looked like they might be overwhelmed by number as more than 500,000 made the perilous journey by boat.

Their stop on the islands was only short term as most made their way into Europe and into countries (unlike Britain) prepared to lend a hand with the humanitarian crisis.

But this didn't stop the British press playing on the inherent British dislike of foreigners and the disproportionate fear of immigrants among British holidaymakers.

The once healthy tourist trade in the eastern Aegean has collapsed as a result with many hotels only half full. Many of the rooms are taken up with aid workers, translators and other international agencies.

Since the EU struck a deal with Turkey to curb the flow of refugees the problems have virtually disappeared. On a recent visit to Leros the only refugees I saw were those housed in a local hospital while their papers were processed.

Many were young children, some separated from their families, who had seen their villages in Syria destroyed by forces from all sides of the war.

It was hard to see how they could be a threat to anyone, least of all the few holidaymakers enjoying the Leros island beaches.

It was a similar story of Kos where there appeared to be absolutely no sign of social problems from refugees or anyone else.

The biggest impact of the refugee crisis on Kos has been to empty the hotels. It was certainly no problem finding rooms in Kos Town in July at what would normally the busiest time of the year.

It's a different story in the west of Greece where hotels on Ionian islands such as Corfu and Kefalonia are bursting at the seams. Corfu alone expects around 1.5 visitors this year with bookings already up 10% on last year's record levels.

The continued popularity of islands not affected by the influx of refugees may well help Greece match last year's record of 23.6 million arrivals but it seems such a shame that some islands have been hit so hard by bad publicity, particularly when that publicity appears not to be grounded in fact.

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