News / Europe

    Despite Cold, Record-Breaking Numbers of Refugees Arrive in Greece

    Despite Cold, Record-Breaking Numbers of Refugees Arrive in Greecei
    X
    January 21, 2016 7:06 PM
    Refugees are traveling from Turkey to Greece by sea in record numbers despite the winter cold and the first snow to hit some islands in years. Aid workers say they struggle just to keep people alive and healthy before they depart for the next leg of their journey. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports in Cairo with Hamada Elrasam in Lesbos, Greece.
    Hamada ElrasamHeather Murdock

    As a crowded rubber boat approached the Greek island of Lesbos on Tuesday, aid workers waved and gave the roughly 30 passengers a thumbs up. Close to shore, they climbed out of the boat, appearing stunned and passing babies to aid workers to carry them to the beach. 
     
    The day before, it had snowed in Lesbos for the first time in four years.
     
    The group was among the roughly 1,600 people who have been arriving in rubber boats on the shores of Greece every day since the beginning of this year.
     
    That is more than 20 times the amount of people arriving in all of January of 2015, a year in which more than a million people made the dangerous journey from the Middle East or Africa to Europe to seek asylum, according to the International Organization for Migration.
     
    “The number suggests that the number of maritime arrivals in Greece in 2016 may significantly exceed the record 853,650 migrants who arrived in Greece by sea in 2015,” reads a statement on the IOM website.
     
    On the shores of Lesbos, refugees say the people will keep coming.
     
    “I had to expose myself and my family to this danger on this boat,” said Ahmed Alhomsy, a Syrian man holding his infant son. “The boat is like a rubber balloon and we are traveling in the winter when it is most dangerous.”

    • In the past week alone, 19 people are believed to have drowned crossing the sea to Greece, including three children and a baby, Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 19, 2016. (VOA/Hamada Elrasam)
    • Despite the cold weather this month, more than 20 times the amount of people are arriving in Greece than in January of 2015, a year in which more than a million people made the dangerous journey to Europe seek asylum, Jan. 19, 2016, Lesbos, Greece. (VOA/H
    • Aid workers say when the people arrive on shore, their clothes are usually wet, and in cold weather, the wet clothes can quickly freeze, Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 19, 2016. (VOA/Hamada Elrasam)
    • Officials say nearly half the new arrivals are from Syria so far this year and the rest of the people are mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran, in Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 19, 2016. (VOA/Hamada Elrasam)
    • It snowed for the first time in years in Lesbos this week, and aid workers say fewer boats land during storms, but many more people are braving the cold than at this time last year, Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 19, 2016. (VOA/Hamada Elrasam)


    After surviving the sea, there are also dangers on shore, said Amy Pappajohn, an aid worker. For example, when they land, the refugees' clothes are usually wet,
     
    “In the summer of course it was no problem when the clothes were wet,” she said. “But it’s now a health risk, health and safety problems, with them becoming frozen solid the second they come off the boats.”
     
    Death Toll
     
    The cold weather has also made traveling by sea more deadly, according to the IOM. In the past week 19 people are believed to have drowned at sea enroute to Greece, including three children and an infant.
     
    On land, travelers echo the refrain of earlier refugees fleeing to Europe. They didn’t come because they wanted to, they came because they had to, said Alhomsy.
     
    “Syria is being bombed from the air,” he added. “We are terrified for our women and our children. We were forced to leave. If you ask me or any Syrian here in Greece, nobody wanted to leave by his own choice.”
     
    Cold weather is expected to continue here in the coming weeks and, as a result, fewer people are arriving than last month, according to aid workers. 
     
    “It’s very dependent on the weather and the storms and the wind,” said Pappajohn. “In the month of December the numbers were quite high because we didn’t have, I think, a single day of rain.”

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Ricky G from: United Kerala
    January 22, 2016 8:41 AM
    'If you ask me or any Syrian here in Greece, nobody wanted to leave by his own choice.' So who made you leave? There will always be an over dramatic statement that makes us believe Syria has no safe areas. Stay in your country, then you would not risk your son's life, your wife's life, your 25 relations lives, and your own of course.

    by: Bob Shoulder
    January 22, 2016 5:09 AM
    It is heart breaking to see this happening, I have just left lesbos in a convoy going back to the UK after delivering humanitarian aid to the island, it's so sad to see this happening just because of politics, why should these poor innocent people die, praise the Lord for peace and love Bob

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