Greek island of Lesbos struggles with migrant arrivals

Mytilene (Greece) (AFP) - Some 25,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, have descended on the Aegean island of Lesbos so far this year, local officials say -- a massive increase that has piled pressure on debt-ridden Greece.

"From January 1 we have received 25,000 migrants compared to 8,500 last year," the island's coastguard chief Nikos Varthis told AFP on Thursday.

The island also known as Myteline has been hard-pressed to give temporary shelter to the migrants until they can be documented and then moved to Athens for asylum applications.

This week, scuffles broke out between Syrian and Afghan migrants over priority access to the ferry to the mainland.

After sleeping on the floor in and around the coastguard offices, the migrants are now housed in a disused swimming centre and a makeshift tent camp a few kilometres (miles) outside the island capital.

"We have lost count of daily arrivals," local mayor Spyros Galinos said.

On Thursday, AFP witnessed a group of around 100 people landing on an island beach onboard two inflatable boats.

Crossing the stretch of water from Turkey "was really difficult, we were close to death on several occasions," said Mahmoud Alwalei as he stepped onto the beach, soaked to the skin.

Alwalei said there were 52 people crammed on one of the dinghies, including children.

"We hope we will be able to reach Europe -- Germany, Switzerland," he said.

On Sunday, 1,800 migrants from Lesbos and the neighbouring island of Chios arrived at the port of Piraeus.

More than 100,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea from North Africa over the last year.

Some 1,800 have died during the journey across the Mediterranean in rickety, overcrowded boats run by people smugglers who charge the migrants exorbitant sums.

After Italy, Greece has received the second-highest influx of migrants and refugees making the perilous Mediterranean crossing.

With debt talks with its international creditors stalled, Greece is struggling to stay afloat as it tries to secure a deal to avoid crashing out of the eurozone.

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