A car ferry carrying just over 2,400 Syrian refugees arrived on the Greek mainland on Thursday as a wave of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty continued unabated, straining a country which is already in economic crisis.
Many of the Syrians made ‘V’ for victory signs as they disembarked in the port city of Piraeus from the ship, chartered by the Greek government to ease conditions on islands in the eastern Aegean, where migrants are arriving on inflatable dinghies and small boats from nearby Turkey.
Greece has been found largely unprepared to deal with the migrant crisis in recent weeks, prompting criticism from aid agencies. Arrivals in July totalled 50,000, far outstripping the figure for the whole of 2014.
But many of the Syrians who arrived at Piraeus, which is part of the sprawling Athens conurbation, said they had no intention of staying in Greece as they flee their country’s civil war. They plan instead to head almost immediately to the country’s northern border via the second city of Thessaloniki, hoping to move on to other European countries.
“Which is the bus to Thessaloniki?” asked 28-year-old Jwan from the Syrian city of Aleppo as he and hundreds of others milled on the Piraeus quayside, before heading into central Athens. Trains and buses depart from there to Thessaloniki, which lies close to the Macedonian and Bulgarian borders.
Macedonia is already overwhelmed by migrants trying to get to northern Europe where they hope to find more help, opportunities and jobs.
Apart from buses on hand to take the refugees from the port to the Piraeus metro station, nobody appeared to be available to offer guidance on where to go.
The car ferry Eleftherios Venizelos departed Kos on Wednesday and stopped at several other islands to pick up more Syrians on the voyage to the mainland.
Jwan had travelled with his two sisters from Turkey to Lesbos. “We don’t want to stay in Greece, we want to go to Germany,” he said.