Thirteen Afghans arrive in a tiny boat on the beach in Kos, Greece. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

— This is the second front in Europe’s migrant crisis.

Tens of thousands from the Middle East, Africa and Asia are rushing the shores of Europe, with Greece now just behind Italy as the single largest entry point. From clandestine ports in Turkey as close as 30 minutes by raft, dozens of newcomers are landing every day.


The Greek islands are the gateway to Europe for many refugees. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

Four Afghan men, barely able to stand, arrive in the early morning. They had accidentally landed on a Greek army base, and soldiers soon approached. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

Once ashore, a stark contrast is obvious. The island’s sidewalks are typically the purview of sun-deprived Germans, Nordics and Brits. Millionaires dock their yachts at the harbor, disembarking in crisp linen to dine on island fare. But now, they are co-existing with hordes of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others who, especially since January, are using this Aegean resort as Europe’s back door.

The two groups — Western tourists and poor migrants — are not so much sharing the island’s sidewalks as clustering among themselves. And Kos is suddenly a case study in close-quarters segregation.


The Kos police station courtyard overflows with new arrivals awaiting paperwork to travel to Athens. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

Throngs of exhausted migrants camp out in front of the island’s police station, where they head straight from the beach, often still wet and wearing life vests. They wait hours to make their claims for temporary visas, squinting at curious tourists as they pass. Many of them — sticking close together en route to pricey cafes, which are virtually migrant-free — squint back.


A Syrian boy plays among the tents at the back of the Captain Elias hotel. The hotel has been set up as a holding camp by the Kos authorities. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

Syrian women huddle together in Kos. Many migrants in the town wait for paperwork so they can board the ferry to Athens. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

An Afghan child with a very high fever stays with his family at the Captain Elias hotel. The hotel’s squalid conditions are a breeding ground for illness. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

Seven men from Kobane, Syria, talk about their former lives as they sit around a single candle at the Captain Elias hotel, which has no electricity or running water. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

Inside the cement husk that is the island’s new migrant camp, mounds of trash from as many as 250 people attract flies in the hallways. The stench causes reflexive covering of the nose. The one common toilet does not work. The water-pumping station out back looks more like a cesspool. And a baby, running a high fever, cries continuously.

At the camp, the more-
fortunate Syrians separate themselves from, for example, the dirt-poor Afghans. The gap is partly linguistic. Speaking different tongues, they mostly can’t communicate. But here, there is also an ethnic — and class — divide.

A middle-class Syrian woman in a clean pink shirt and bright head scarf was among those suggesting the camp should be divided into sections by ethnic group.


A Syrian family cooks two small fish on a fire behind the Captain Elias hotel. A young member of the family plays with a telephone handset as she waits for her share of the meal. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

“Please,” she said, “you must do something to help us.”

Many of the others — the Pakistanis, Afghans and Africans — were quietly making do.

“The Syrians are doing better,” complained Ramazan Ali, a 23-year-old Afghan. Why? “Because they have money.”

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