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Refugees cause concern in Greek Islands

- by Andy Cornish

The influx on refugees into Greek Islands that lie off the Turkish coast is causing authorities increasing concern

Refugees from war-torn Syria and other migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been arriving daily on boats that are barely seaworthy.

Greek Island authorities in the north Aegean and Dodecanese are now warning that the situation is getting out of control as police and medics try to cope with the increasing numbers of migrants.

Tourists on Greek Island holidays are unlikely to be aware of the problem as refugees are held in refugee centres or at police or coast guard stations.

The grateful refugees are mostly families that have fled terror and are generally peaceable and polite and present no behaviour problems to the Greek authorities

Those who cannot be accommodated in shelters have been forced to camp out on beaches or fields while waiting for documents to be processed and boats to take them to the mainland.

Islands that lie along the Turkish coast are worst affected. Around 4000 arrive each day on the island of Lesvos where they are escorted to migrant camps in Moria and Kata Tepe.

The island mayor, Spyros Galinos, admits they are unable to cope with the numbers and warns that fights have started to break out between groups of frustrated refugees.

On Leros, which get around 100 a day, migrants suffer from poor hygiene conditions. It is supposed to take two to three days to process their papers before transfer to Athens but staff shortages mean they often stay on the island for much longer. A shortage of coast guard boats means many migrants are now transferred to Athens on commercial ferries.

On the tiny island of Symi, near Rhodes, more than 4,000 migrants have arrived in the past six months and many have been housed in buildings around the port. Mayor of Symi, Eleftherios Papakalodoukas, fears that some tourists are now leaving the island early because of the refugee problem.

But other tourists are helping local to give humanitarian aid to the arrivals. British actor Douglas Booth visited Lesvos recently to meet the migrants.

He said: "The people I met have endured terrible suffering, loss, heartbreak and fear. They look to Europe for protection. They look to Europe for safety. Yet they are too often met by prejudice, ill-will, hostility, intolerance and anger."

The Greek Island of Kos has hit back at an article in the British Daily Mail newspaper that claimed an influx of refugees has turned the holiday island into a 'disgusting hellhole'

Kos islanders attacked the article's 'racist and provocative' style and blamed the newspaper for discrediting the popular holiday island as a tourist destination.

They admitted that dealing with growing numbers of refugees was a big problem but locals insist that holidaymakers are unlikely to even be aware of their presence unless they deliberately seek them out.

Anyone thinking of cancelling a package holiday to Greece should probably think again. A holiday operator is only legally obliged to refund your money if the Foreign Office issues an official warning against travel to a destination and the issue of refugees in the Greek Islands is not even mentioned on the FO website.

Tourists worried about travelling to a Greek Island with refugee problems could steer clear of islands in the eastern Mediterranean. Islands to the west of Greece in the Ionian, such as Corfu, Kefalonia and Zante; to the south in the Cyclades, such as Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos and Paros report no refugee boats arriving on their shores.