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Elated to reach Greece, migrants face obstacles on the road ahead

On the Greek isle of Lesbos, thousands are coming to shore by boat every day; most are refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on how they are being greeted.

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    There are many way stations on the long and hard march from the killing fields of the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan. Many of those perilous journeys stop over on the Greek islands off the Turkish coast.

    Tonight, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from the Greek isle of Lesbos, where tens of thousands of refugees and migrants have landed on their uncertain voyage toward Europe.


    Just after dawn, and volunteers direct the day's first arrivals to make the five-mile crossing from Turkey. The flimsy boat was spotted by Englishman Eric Kempson, a Lesbos resident, who's been up at dawn every day for months to shepherd the refugees to safety. Kempson has inspired other Europeans to help, at a time when the E.U. is bitterly divided over how to respond.

  • ERIC KEMPSON, Volunteer:

    Now we're at 40, 45. The other day, we had 50 boats. You know, 50 boats is 2,500 people. It's absolutely crazy. And the amount of accidents is unbelievable, boats sinking, people in the water. We're rescuing every single day.

    We're civilized people here in Europe. And for these people to have suffered the way they have suffered, when you see them get off the boats, they're all elated and everything else, and then you see them a few hours or a few days later, they're different people. They don't know what the hell is going on here.


    Today's sea was kind. It isn't always.

    How do you feel about being here?

  • MAN:



    Only a handful of children were on the boat. Most were men, whose first thought was to phone home. Kempson's wife, Philippa, has noticed a clear trend.

  • PHILIPPA KEMPSON, Volunteer:

    The last weeks, most of the Syrian people are from Damascus, and the stories we are hearing is that they have hung on and hung on. And now Damascus is — it's — the war is spreading to all the areas of Damascus. So, they're leaving really quickly now. These are people that were in Damascus a week ago.

    So they're running really quickly. So, it's nothing to do with the numbers pulling them, because they know how bad the situation here is. They're very media-savvy. They have their phones. They're in contact with people who've already come. They know how bad it is. But they're — what's the alternative? They're not allowed to fly to Europe. They have to make this journey. We have forced them into — the more fences we build, the more we force people to make journeys like this.


    It's estimated that 60 percent of those crossing to Lesbos are from Syria.


    Life there, it's not good. It's not healthy. Children, it's not safe. Our home, it's not safe. Everything is not safe.


    The next biggest national group setting out for Northern Europe comes from Afghanistan, where fears about of ongoing violence and insecurity, driven by the Taliban and Islamic State, abound.


    The most important point is just the insecurity and different bad situations that forced us and others to leave our homeland and hometown. And just we want security, we want a shelter in order to have a better life in the future.

    Our education is left incomplete in our country. But we are trying our best. And this is the target and aim of our parents also and others to pave the ground of education for us, for our small brothers.


    The people behind me are waiting for a bus to take them to Mytilini, which is Lesbos' main town. And that's an improvement on when I was here four months ago, because they had to march for two or three days to reach the ports to catch a ferry to Athens.

    But the European Union's inability to construct a coherent policy to deal with this crisis means that the new arrivals have many more difficulties than those who have trodden this road before. Getting to the fringes of Greece is painfully slow, but every day, new obstacles are being placed in their way in the Balkans and Central Europe.

    But their first impression of Europe was one of kindness, as they were greeted with food, fluids and genuine concern. For this child, the journey was quickly forgotten in a slightly surreal encounter on the beach. This young Syrian recorded his landfall for posterity. He's making history. But the scenes he will capture in the coming days may not be so peaceful.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant in Lesbos.

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