WATCH ABOVE: Turmoil in the Middle East and Africa is prompting thousands of people to leave to Europe. Many of the migrants are arriving in Greece. It’s putting pressure on the bankrupt country’s ability to address the crisis. On Wednesday the EU once again said it stands ready to help – but will it? Emily Elias reports.
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KOS, Greece – Fights broke out among migrants on the Greek island of Kos Tuesday, where overwhelmed authorities are struggling to contain increasing numbers of people arriving clandestinely on rubber dinghies from the nearby Turkish shore.
Hundreds of protesting migrants demanding quick registration began blocking the main coastal road in the island’s main town, staging a sit-in.
“We want papers, we want to eat!” they chanted.
Hundreds of people arrive on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands daily, many after fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan. Authorities, locals and charity groups are struggling to provide registration, food and shelter to the new arrivals, many of whom are children.
Many of those on Kos, a popular tourist destination, had been camping in the main town’s parks and squares.
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An attempt to have them relocated to a stadium for registration degenerated, with fights breaking out among some of the roughly 1,500 people gathered in a long, crowded queue in the stadium.
Police, who had a force of just a handful of officers to maintain control and carry out the registration, tried to impose order on the crowd by spraying the jostling migrants with fire extinguishers and using batons. Hundreds fled in panic.
Similar protests and tension have occurred on several of the islands bearing the brunt of the migrant influx in recent weeks, including Lesbos, where the majority of new arrivals land.
Greece’s coast guard said they had rescued 329 migrants in seven separate search and rescue incidents in the 24 hours from Monday morning off the coast of Lesbos and Kos.
Those figures do not include the hundreds more who reach shore themselves in their inflatable dinghies from Turkey, making their own way to the islands’ main towns for registration.
Greece has been overwhelmed by the number of migrants arriving, with at least 124,000 people reaching the eastern islands in the first seven months of this year alone. The figure represents a staggering 750 per cent increase on the same period last year, according to figures from the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR.
In all, Greek police said Monday that 156,726 migrants had been arrested for entering or remaining in the country illegally from January through July 2015, compared to 32,070 for the same months in 2014.