BODRUM, Turkey (AP) — The lights of the Greek resort island of Kos twinkle at night, an irresistible lure to the scores of migrants who gather daily on Turkish beaches to cross the Aegean Sea.
The trip from Bodrum, a southern Turkish beach resort, to Greece is far less risky than other water journeys to Europe for those seeking a better life or asylum status. At its closest point, Kos is only 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from Turkey — a trip that takes barely an hour in a sailboat, locals say.
But the migrants travel in the dead of night to avoid Turkish and Greek coast guard patrols, giant oil tankers and large tourist cruisers. Strapped into lifejackets, squeezed into flimsy, overcrowded inflatable dinghies, they pay around $1,200 each to smugglers for the crossing.
For many, the trip is terrifying. Smugglers often jam the tiny boats with three or four times their maximum capacity of four people. Associated Press journalists saw one boat nearly underwater from the weight of its human cargo, its passengers fleeing in panic or bailing frantically. Many of the migrants — mostly from Syria, but also from Afghanistan, Iran and African nations — cannot swim.
The illicit trade is lucrative. Smugglers use a boat that can be ordered online for around 100 euros ($110), sometimes adding a tiny electric motor, for a journey that takes about half an hour.
Greece has reported nearly 135,000 arrivals from Turkey this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Along with those landing in Italy, Spain and Malta, some 243,000 migrants have crossed the sea this year to reach Europe.
When they reach Kos, the migrants often wade ashore past tourists lying in the sun.
Mike Corder also contributed.