Written by Patrick Kingsley
The first dinghy landed around 05.45 on a rocky beach near a distant Greek fishing village. After the thirteenth arrived about 35 minutes later, 547 migrants had landed, in broad daylight, within a few meters of each other on the Greek island of Lesbos.
The flotilla on August 29 repeated a pattern that has not been seen here since the beginning of 2016, when the European Union pledged more than $ 6 billion to Turkey, in sight of Lesbos, to sharpen its border patrols and keep migrants from Europe .
Over the years, only one or two refugee boats have usually made it to this stretch of the Greek coast every day, which greatly facilitates Europe's migration crisis. But that rhythm changed in August, the busiest month of more than three years, and fed the fear of a new wave of mass migration across the Aegean Sea.
The number of arrivals is still only a fraction of the peak in 2015, when Lesbos was the busiest European entry point for migrants – mainly people fleeing the Syrian civil war. Last month, nearly 10,000 migrants arrived in all of Greece; in October 2015, at the height of the crisis, it did more than 210,000.
But the recent surge of power comes when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey once again threatens to allow large numbers of migrants to pass through Turkey to Greece, European politicians fail to to provide additional financial support to Turkey or to reject its plans to increase Turkish influence in northern Syria.
"This either happens," Erdogan said in a speech last week, "otherwise we have to open the gates."
The August increase shows that this may not be a free threat. But if he plans to create a new refugee crisis for Europe, Erdogan has fewer tools to work with than he did in 2015, when Syrian refugees found it easier to enter Turkey.
Turkey has since completed a border wall and has imposed restrictions on Syrians traveling from Lebanon or Jordan. these controls, allowing more people – even if they would only use Turkey as a bridge to Europe – would be politically risky for Erdogan.
But 3.6 million Syrian refugees already live in Turkey, the world's largest foreign Syrian population, together with hundreds of thousands from other countries. If Turkey makes life unsustainable for them, or relaxes efforts to keep them outside Europe, the effect can be dramatic k.
"Erdogan's latest comments about releasing a new wave of refugees are a product of his growing frustration with the huge number already in Turkey," said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based research group.
"It is unlikely that there is a fully thought out master plan ready for implementation," he adds.
The fact that Turkish smugglers could gather so many people on August 29 and send them to Greece in such a rapid succession has raised questions about the participation of Turkish states.
Turkey's coast guard, normally quite active in these waters, did not respond in the afternoon to repeated requests for intervention from their Greek counterparts, according to Refugee Rescue, a small private lifeboat organization that helps affected migrants and has ace for maritime communications.
Turkish vessels also adhered to a pattern of morning patrol throughout August, even as smugglers repeatedly sent refugees to Greece in the afternoon.
"What we found strange was that this was a trend, and they did not change how they worked to try to stop this," said Finn Sands-Robinson, who heads Refugee Rescue & # 39; s land-based observation group.
a senior Turkish official, who insisted his name would not be used, denied that Turkish authorities had become visible to smugglers.
The Erdogan government increased the deportation of Syrians from Turkey this summer, and it was widely believed that this degradation caused the increase in departures to Greece
But more than 80% of the migrants who landed in Lesbos in August were from Afghanistan, and increasingly uncertain conditions in Turkey and Iran, where at least 1 million Afghans live in exile, as well as in Afghanistan itself, have led many Afghan refugees go to Europe.
Gholam Reza Salahi, a 25-year-old Afghan worker who has lived most of his life in Iran, said he decided to go to Greece country after being deported for the fourth time from Iran to Afghanistan.
"We would be smuggled back to Iran and then deported again," he said. "And that happened too many times."
As a member of the Hazara ethnic group, persecuted by the Taliban, he felt he could not remain in his parents. Nor did Turkey feel like a reasonable sanctuary: Ankara has deported 32,000 Afghans so far this year, far more than any other national group.
Europe felt like the safest bet, said Reza Salahi, who reached Lesbos in late August.  Only 5% of migrants who arrived in Lesbos last month were from Syria, indicating that few Syrians still feel anxious to leave Turkey. But the testimonies of new Syrian arrivals provide an indication of what may come.
A group of families from northern Syria, lying in a tent on a Greek slope, had for seven years refused to flee their neighborhood despite regular air attacks, the destruction of their homes and schools, and many relatives and friends killed.
But this summer, they finally decided to leave Jabal al-Zawiya, a rebel citizen, because of a sharp escalation in air strikes and the likely resumption of the area by President Bashar Assad's forces.
"The Assad army, when they take a seat, they burn it," said Obeida al-Nassouh, a shopkeeper who said he had paid $ 3,500 for his family to be smuggled through a secret tunnel to Turkey and then on to Lesbos. "They don't care if you're a civilian or a soldier, they just burn it."
The fight has intensified in Idlib, a Syrian province bordering Turkey, prompting more people to leave.
The huge number of Syrians already in Turkey is causing a great deal of anger within Erdogan's political base, and he is keen to reduce the refugee population.
Youssef al-Hassan, 44, a new arrival in Lesbos, had for seven years had the pleasure of staying in Turkey, where his family lived in poverty but at least felt safe from Assad's forces.
But this summer's deportations of Syrians persuaded al-Hassan that even Turkey was no longer safe.
"We felt like the next five minutes they could come and throw us out," he said a few hours after landing in Greece. "The situation is such that many will come."
True or not, to and With a slight increase in arrivals, the misery of the refugees is exacerbated.
In 2015, new arrivals could move quickly to the Greek mainland, and then on to Germany, but today there are migrants in the Greek islands, mostly in overcrowded and bleak camps that operate in their place In Lesbos, about 10,000 people have been forced into Moria, a camp built for just 3,100. Although the European Union has allocated about $ 1.9 billion to the Greek government to subsidize refugee welfare, Greece refused to improve the facilities of fear of encouraging more migrants.
Residents here sometimes spend up to a year living in broken tents, and up p to 12 hours a day waiting for food after food, which often ends before everyone is served.
"Every day we stand for hours and they say, '# 39; There's nothing left,'" said Reza Salahi. "And so is the case for about a quarter of us." sometimes into tents, while fights and sexual abuse regularly occur. Overwhelmed medical workers struggle to treat a rising number of patients. July, the number of children with severe mental health problems has more than doubled to 73, according to Doctors Without Borders.
An Afghan mother, Sohaila Hajizadeh, who fled to Greece after the Taliban attacked her family, said she was often rejected by doctors when they seeks treatment for his teenage son, who has severe psychological trauma. From the wrist to the shoulder, the boy's arms are covered with self-inflicted knife wounds.
There are 747 refugee children in Lesbos, who live without their parents, and are provided with safe housing by the authorities. But poor registration processes mean that there are more orphans who live without documentation in the camp.
One such youth, Mohammed al-Othman, 16, lives in a crowded tent with 12 other people from his home province in Syria. He left Syria in August after his school was bombed; his mother only had enough money to smuggle a family member, so Mohammed went alone.
Since arriving in Greece, he has not received treatment for four scrap wounds suffered during a new airflow.
"The treatment is very poor," he said. "They just asked me: How old are you, are you sick? And they left me outside. "
He wore a shirt with the slogan:" Growing up. "
The words had been crossed out.