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Greek Island Of Kos Burdened By Migrant Migration

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next we'll sample a debate over an even more dramatic migration. It's the desperate movement of people from the Middle East and Africa to Europe. For many people leaving war-torn Syria and elsewhere, Greece is the first European stop. Some show up at Greek resort islands where reporter Joanna Kakissis has been tracking Greeks' complicated views of them. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: You told us the other day about this island called Kos, just flooded with people. What do the locals think about all this?

KAKISSIS: Not what you might expect. In fact, I profiled a restaurant owner the other day who has been helping migrants. He's been giving them water and food, whatever he can. And most of the shop owners on Kos are doing the same thing. There's this idea that we need to help the people who are arriving because these are families, babies, women. You know, the people see this, and they feel bad. And they want to help do whatever they can. But they are overwhelmed because it is tourist season, and they need to keep customers coming in. They need to keep their businesses going.

INSKEEP: So on this human-to-human level, there's a lot of sympathy. Does that mean that everyone's entirely satisfied with how things are going?

KAKISSIS: No, no, no, people are very angry actually. But they're angry at the national government, and they're angry at the mayor, at the municipal government because they don't seem to be able to coordinate a manageable response to this. They're the ones who need to be sheltering and feeding and clothing new arrivals, not the locals. And the locals say, why aren't you doing anything? Why are you arguing with each other over who's responsible and not taking responsibility yourself?

INSKEEP: You know, Joanna, so much of your reporting from Greece has focused on the economic crisis there for years. I'm curious. When you go to these resort islands and you encounter shopkeepers and others who are reaching out and helping migrants, are these people who are in somewhat desperate conditions themselves in some cases?

KAKISSIS: Absolutely. These are people who have seen a 50 percent drop in business over the course of the last two years. And now they're facing, you know, even bigger drops - like 75 percent drops because of people being unable to get to their shops or their restaurants. They're worried that they're going to lose even more business. So yeah, of course they're affected by the economic crisis. But again, their first response is a human response. And they're saying to the government, you must deal with this. You must help these folks who are coming in because we can't do it.

INSKEEP: So are there at least some of the migrants, the refugees, that the government is prioritizing and managing to deal with in some way?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, I mean, the government is prioritizing Syrians. They're the majority of the people who are coming over in these small, inflatable rafts from Turkey. And they put hundreds of them on a ferry to shelter them until their claims were processed by the police. But that's left lots of people still on the island, sleeping outside with no food, no water, no shelter. But I want to note one thing. The government has been consumed with the financial crisis in the last few months. And they have not paid any attention to this issue. The response has been disorganized. It's been haphazard. And that really shows in how people are being housed and taken care of.

INSKEEP: Joanna, thanks very much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Joanna Kakissis, who's based in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.