Hundreds of people arrived in more than a dozen dinghies to the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos in a single afternoon, Greek authorities and aid groups said Friday, a significant increase in the numbers of refugees and migrants heading to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.
The coast guard confirmed that 13 boats carrying a total of 546 people arrived on Lesbos in the space of about an hour on Thursday, while another 32 people in another boat were rescued at sea and transported to Lesbos. A further 65 were rescued in two separate incidents off the island of Kos and the northern mainland town of Alexandroupolis.
Hundreds of people continue to head to Greece from Turkey each week, despite a European Union-Turkey deal restricting new arrivals to the islands pending deportation or a successful asylum application. But Thursday's mass arrival was the largest of its kind since 2016, when the EU-Turkey deal came into effect, medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said on Twitter.
The EU-Turkey deal has led to a massive bottleneck on the eastern Aegean islands, where asylum seekers are housed in massively overcrowded camps, with aid groups frequently criticizing conditions. People deemed to be in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, those with serious health problems or the very young, are the only ones transported to the mainland and housed in camps or apartments.
Official figures released Friday showed that more than 10,000 people were being held in Lesbos in a facility with a capacity of 3,000 people, while there was also severe overcrowding on the islands of Chios, Leros, Kos and Samos.