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.”

    You May Like

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    This forum has been closed.
    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

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora