On A Greek Island, Vacationers Lend A Hand To Migrants : Parallels European tourists on the island of Lesvos are doing more than just lounging on the shimmering Aegean this summer. Some join islanders in assisting the many migrants who are camping in the open.

On A Greek Island, Vacationers Lend A Hand To Migrants

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Once again this summer, affluent tourists are flocking to the beaches of a popular Greek island. What is different this summer is that refugees are flocking there, too.


The island is Lesvos. In ancient times, it was the birthplace of the poet Sappho. In modern times, it's a resort where beachgoers happily drink the liquor called ouzo.

INSKEEP: And now it's known for receiving more than 22,000 migrants, many of them fleeing war. Joanna Kakissis traveled to this Lesvos.

ERIC KEMPSON: Beautiful morning.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: British artist Eric Kempson lives on Molyvos Beach, one of the prettiest spots on Lesvos. It's almost 6 a.m., and he's peering through binoculars at the narrow slip of sea separating the European Union from Turkey. He's scanning the horizon for rubber boats packed with migrants. He sees them every day.

KEMPSON: We get many come across, normally five a day. Some day - one day, we have 11 boats, and each boat sits about 50, 60 people.

KAKISSIS: Kempson spots a black inflatable raft landing on a rocky stretch of beach.


KAKISSIS: The 50 or so passengers - many screaming for joy - include young Afghan and Pakistani men. There's a Somali couple and a Syrian family with a baby boy. They deflate the boat, throw off their life jackets and climb up to a dirt road.

Migrants usually walk to the nearest village, Molyvos. Volunteers greet them with water, fruit and Pampers. Tourists pitch in, like Paula Dieiers and her husband Meindert, who came here from the Netherlands for some R and R. Paula says she can't enjoy her holiday when she sees people in need.

PAULA DIEIERS: So the first thing in the morning we do is trying to help as much as we can. And in the afternoon we go to the beach. And then it's easier for us to relax.


KAKISSIS: Plenty of people do still come to relax in the port of Molyvos. A man in a small fishing boat strums a bouzouki, completing the picturesque scene for nearby diners.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Out of sight, behind the restaurants, 40 Afghans are camped out in the dirt. Nasima Ahmadi's black headscarf is still streaked with salt from the sea voyage.

Are you scared?

NASIMA AHMADI: A little, yes, especially in the sea. I cry more.

KAKISSIS: You cry?

AHMADI: Yes. I say to my mother, oh, my God, I want to die.

KAKISSIS: Outside town, 32 Syrians camp out at a bus stop. Emad Hassbany arrived here with his two young sons on a rubber boat, hoping to head to Athens and then Denmark. But they can't board a bus. Greek law forbids transporting undocumented migrants and the main port where they register is 43 miles away.

EMAD HASSBANY: No bus, no taxi. We have to walk. It's a bad choice, but we haven't another choice.

KAKISSIS: Sympathetic islanders and tourists formed a convoy to drive the exhausted refugees to that main port, Mytiline. One driver was Vassilki Andriadeli.


KAKISSIS: "Since the simple act of giving a ride to someone in need is apparently illegal," she says, "we decided we had to break the law."

Village President Thanassis Andreotis is in a pick-up truck, hoisting up the rafts and life jackets that littered the shores here. He says hotels worry the refugee crisis will hurt business.


KAKISSIS: "Yes, I know we live off tourism," he says, "but since this situation is at our door, we have to manage it with humanity." The migrants wait for days for papers to move on to Athens. And the camps have become so crowded and filthy that protests have broken out. The island's mayor is pleading for help. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis on the Greek island of Lesvos.

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