CHIOS, Greece (AP) — The seas are rough and cold. The wind is bitter. The overcrowded smugglers' boats are far from seaworthy, with many unable even to make it across a few miles of water — and the bodies of those who drown as the boats sink are fished out of the churning seas day by day.
Yet tens of thousands of men, women and children fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands continue to risk their lives this winter to make the relatively short but dangerous journey from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, seeking a better future in Europe.
Boats carrying dozens of asylum-seekers reach the eastern Aegean island of Chios and the nearby deserted island of Pasas each night. Many land on rocky, inaccessible parts of the coast, forcing the new arrivals to scramble up steep inclines or cliffs, sometimes with the help of ropes.
Those who land on Pasas must wait until morning, warming themselves around fires, until the Greek coast guard can come to ferry them off to Chios and the migrant registration center.
There they go through a screening and fingerprinting process before being given registration documents and catching ferries or flights to the Greek mainland. Then the migrants continue their journey through the Balkans toward more prosperous European countries.
More than 850,000 people, most fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan, entered Greece by sea in 2015, according to the UNHCR. Already in 2016, 35,455 people have arrived despite plunging winter temperatures and days of stormy weather.