Anna Wolcke and Tom Salotti and staff reports
MYTILENE, Greece, June 24, 2019 – This morning more than 30 migrants, huddled on two small inflated rafts, sailed across the Aegean and arrived in the port of Mytilene, coming ashore in this harbor town’s scenic commercial district. They appeared to have made their way from Turkey, some seven miles way.
Student reporters from Princeton University were the only journalists to document the 8:30 a.m. arrival, the latest in a steady trickle of migrants onto the island of Lesbos over the last four years.
Minutes after arrival in Greece, migrants cluster on a dock next to a tourist boat. Photo by Tom Salotti
Local authorities could be seen directing the migrants, the scene separated from the town by a harbor security fence. One person was placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. Others discarded their orange vests and huddled in a tight group along the water’s edge, in full view of tourists and business people beginning their day.
The men, women and children eventually boarded a pair of dark, unmarked buses and apparently were transported to the nearby Moria migrant camp, operated by the Greek government.
The scene unfolded next to a docked ferry that shuttles tourists between Mytilene and a village in Turkey. Hours later, the life vests and the two rafts, one collapsed and one still partially inflated, could be seen abandoned on the town’s dock.
Closeup of discarded rafts and life vests. Photo by Tom Salotti.
Two weeks earlier, a boat carrying 64 people attempted a similar crossing, but overturned. Two children, four women and a man drowned, according to the Hellenic Coast Guard.
Greece has become a primary gateway for refugees flowing into Europe, many of them fleeing conflict in countries like Syria and Afghanistan, creating the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War Two. Increasingly, migrants also arrive from sub-Saharan Africa.
Migrants wait to board bus for refugee reception center. Photo by Joe Stephens
The influx was drastically curtailed by a 2016 accord between Turkey and the EU, but many still attempt the short, perilous journey.
Many easternmost Greek islands are just a few miles from Turkey. In recent months, attempted migrant crossings have increased again. About 9,700 migrants have attempted the trip so far this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Smugglers often use unseaworthy boats and pack them beyond capacity. Rough seas often cause boats to capsize. Last year, a reported 174 people drowned on the route.
There are now more than 7.000 migrants on Lesbos, with at least 35 new boats arriving just this month, according to the organization Aegean Boat Report.
Follow this website for continuing reports on the migration crisis in Greece.