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Already suffering Greece struggles with flood of migrants

As Greece grapples to reach a deal with international creditors to avoid bankruptcy, the country is also being hit hard with a surge of arriving migrants – straining scant resources even further. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from the island of Lesbos, which is on the front lines of Greece’s migrant crisis.

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    In Athens today, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was forced to defend billions of dollars in budget savings that he offered in talks with the country's creditors. Some in his own party accuse the leader of caving in to pressure for more austerity. The nation faces the prospect of bankruptcy if a deal with lenders isn't reached by June 30.

    As if that's not enough, Greece has also been hit with another crisis, which is straining its scarce resources even further.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant explains in this report from one of the country's famed islands.


    On the island of Lesbos, just four miles from the Turkish coast, it feels like the world is emptying and walking in this direction.

  • MAN:



    The exodus is propelled by war, tyranny, persecution and poverty. The magnetic pull of European prosperity and peace is impossible to resist.

    Soon, hostility and rejection will temper the emotion of a safe landfall. But, for the moment, euphoria validates the exorbitant one-way ticket.

  • ERIC KEMPSON, Volunteer Refugee Helper:

    Got a boat in, mostly Afghanistanis, took about 25 minutes to come across, mainly five, six children. That boat, there was about 50 people. So, it would be $50,000, American U.S. dollars. It's $1,000 a head for the traffickers.


    Dawn compels an English exile, Eric Kempson, to shepherd the one-way tide towards a network of helping hands.


    One day, we had 11 boats in on these beaches alone. I just look after a small bit of coastline, and they come all the way down around the island, so, that morning, over a half-a-million dollars just on these beaches here in a couple hours.


    Since the start of the year, an estimated 25,000 migrants, a quarter of all those entering Europe illegally, have landed on the shores of Lesbos. For an island with a population of 90,000, the strain is colossal.

    Where have you come from?

  • ALI BAKSHI, Afghan Migrant:

    I come from Afghanistan. There is no peace in Afghanistan.


    So, how happy are you to be in Europe?


    I am very happy to come to — to come to Europe.




    Because there is peace. There is a lot of everything.

    DIMITRIS VARTIS, Former Mayor of Molyvos: Thank you very much, yes.

    It's terrible, what's happening to these people.


    Dimitris Vartis is the former mayor of the town of Molyvos.


    I'm trying to direct them to go to the place where usually people, local people help them. They will prepare right now sandwiches and water and other things that they're going to give them.

    What kind of sympathy? The sympathy of the people that they lost their country, the sympathy that I will have for my people here or anybody else that are under these conditions, under the war that is happening, that's going on there. They are forced to leave their country. That's the sympathy that you can have about these people.


    But these are the worst of times in Greece. As the country struggles with a deepening financial crisis, not everyone shares these islands' culture of unconditional generosity toward strangers.

  • MAN:

    You got a few people coming down and bringing in everything. So, I think they're right-wing. There's one here now. If you swing around and look at — oh, he is looking at me now.


    What do you think of these people coming in here?

  • MAN:

    I don't know.


    The man on the motorbike later told me he was just a port policeman checking out the situation.

    At the port in Molyvos, pleasure boat captain Pantelis Tiniakos is worried that his livelihood will be damaged by tourists canceling hotel reservations.

  • PANTELIS TINIAKOS, Cruise Boat Captain:

    It's my business. I have no — we give anything we have to them, but it's not money. It's not enough. It's not enough.


    Do you get the sense that people are uncomfortable? Does it make people uncomfortable?

  • RUSSELL GILBERT, Magazine Editor:

    I think, primarily, it's the first-time visitors who don't want the unsightliness and the uncertainty, particularly the moral uncertainty of coming to a situation where you have all these people who are struggling.

    So, yes, absolutely, a lot of people are saying, well, I don't want to see this sort of thing on my holiday, but for various different moral and selfish reasons. The impact for tourists themselves, I think, is absolutely minimal. Face-to-face, there is no damage to you. There are no threats to you from these people at all. These people want help. They're not looking to give you any trouble or problems.


    The Greek authorities forced the migrants to walk 40 miles to the town of Mytilene to be registered and sent on to Athens.

    In the Greek summer heat, it's hardest on the children. The numbers landing on Lesbos have gone up sixfold in the past few months. It soon becomes obvious where these people have come from, Syria.

  • MAN (through translator):

    Bashar al-Assad, may God remove your mother's eyes. May God remove your mother's eyes. Bashar al-Assad, he destroyed our homes.


    Although major relief agencies have been aware for months that Lesbos is a key gateway, there is no international presence the deal with one of history's biggest ever refugee crises.

    TARIQ BABA, Syrian Migrant; The military wanted me to kill people. I told them, I cannot do that because I am Syrian, and I know that all those arriving, they are Syrian people. They go for freedom like this. They said, no, they are foreign. You have to kill them. They are from al-Qaida, like this. You have to kill them. I told them, they are my family. I know them.


    This man requested that his identity be kept secret for his family's safety.

  • MAN:

    I don't think any people in this world live like us. In Europe, I hope the peace. That's all, the peace for life. I am human being.


    Anja Franck, a peace studies researcher, comes from Sweden, which has an open borders policy and has promised to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees a year.

  • ANJA FRANCK, Gothenburg University:

    It's quite unbelievable what type of burden they have left Greece with. I think it's — this is a European problem. Most of the people who arrive here, they're just in transit. They don't want to go to Greece. They want to go on to Europe. And European countries and the European leaders have not taken the responsibility that they should.


    At this temporary camp run by the Greek coast guard, everyone is camera-shy, the refugees and the authorities, who order me to stop filming because I don't have a permit.



    In this phone video, you can hear the Coast Guard's anger as they go through the camp with batons raised. The migrants become agitated as the atmosphere degenerates.

    I have been spotted again and ordered to leave.

    What's happening behind me is a real sign of the tension on the island of Lesbos. I'm in the town of Mytilene, and behind me are about 300 or 400 Syrians who have just run away from a temporary refugee camp, saying that they were attacked by Afghans. They come down here, and they are asking the police to protect them, to register them and to send them to Athens for their own safety.

  • MAN:

    They start to attack us with a little knife, and they hit us, and rocks — the sky rained with rocks.


    Europe fears that ISIL sleepers are hiding among genuine refugees.

    THANOS DOKOS, Hellenic Foundation for Defence and Foreign Policy: This is certainly a concern, because you have hundreds of people crossing every day, plus a large Muslim migrant population in the country. So, statistically, some of these people, a very tiny minority, but still a few of them, will not be good persons. Some of them could probably be jihadists.


    On Lesbos, the islanders are doing what they can to save tourism and stay afloat financially. But their appeals to northern countries for assistance are being rejected.

    Their stance was outlined by Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament for Britain's Conservatives, in Copenhagen to help the election campaign of the anti-immigrant people's party.

  • DANIEL HANNAN, European Parliament Conservative:

    It's so easy to try and signal your compassion by saying the government ought to do something, but the reality is that, if we have more amnesties and more people being granted right to remain here, we are encouraging more and more people to make this hellish crossing.


    In its latest report, Amnesty International says countries must prioritize, saving people in distress over implementing immigration policies. But much of Europe isn't listening.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," this is Malcolm Brabant in Lesbos.

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