The migrants arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos are nothing if not resourceful. On the road leading to the island’s main port, they turn a traffic mirror into a spot for shaving and applying hair gel. A drinking fountain near the island’s northern coast has become a kind of oasis, with an entire camp of new arrivals gathering around it to wash and rest on their journey.
Such scenes, which TIME photographer Yuri Kozyrev captured during his visit to Lesbos in early September, show just how overwhelmed this piece of paradise has become. Its hastily constructed migrant camps were already overcrowded the day after they opened their gates last weekend. Both of them are squalid places. The only shelter they offer from the sun are tarps and tents, which also form the walls of makeshift mosques the migrants erected themselves.
At mealtime, when vans arrive with rice and bread, the crush of people reaching for the food sometimes erupts into brawling, and minor riots have become the norm on Lesbos whenever ships arrive to take migrants to the mainland. As of Sept. 8, there were 25,000 of them waiting to be ferried off the island, double the number registered a few days earlier. And every night thousands more keep arriving.
The lucky ones take just a few days to secure a ticket onto the cruise ship, the Venizelos, that transports them to the mainland about 2,500 people at a time. Aboard that ship the migrants are fed a good meal – pork-free, of course – and have a chance to rest and take in the immaculate views of the Aegean Sea. It is one of the only times along their journeys to Western Europe when they can feel respected, even pampered, as they travel. But the road from there, through the Balkans and Hungary, is much less forgiving than Greece.
Yuri Kozyrev is a TIME contract photographer represented by Noor.
Kira Pollack, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise.
Simon Shuster is a reporter for TIME magazine.
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