This beautiful Turkish tourist town is now home to boats stuffed with refugees and migrants headed for Lesbos

October 9, 2015                                                                                    PRI'S THE WORLD

Staring out from the high cliffs above the ancient Greek city of Assos in Turkey, now a beautiful tourist town, your vision merges with the vast blueness of the sky and Aegean Sea until it rests on the melodious green hills of the island of Lesbos in the distance. It’s a grand view that has captivated people for millennia.

Aristotle lived there for a time before leaving for Lesbos, where he and Theophrastus did seminal work classifying flora and fauna.
The ancient Theatre of Assos overlooking the Aegean Sea, with the nearby island of Lesbos on the horizon.
Credit: Vindobona/Wikimedia Commons

Today it’s also an excellent vantage point to observe boats stuffed with refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations leaving from camps run by the Turkish mafia. They are bound for Lesbos, only five miles away at the closest point. On the other side, a ragged group of NGOs, foreign and local volunteers and international media await them with long camera lenses, hugs and, if they’re lucky, some water, pieces of fruit and dry clothing.

The day I arrived in Assos to meet Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, some 50 boats carrying 3,500 refugees would reach Lesbos, adding to the 400,000 who have passed through Greece this year — 100,000 in August alone. Most of the Lesbos-bound boats left from five camps tucked into the pretty olive groves that dot the shoreline around Assos....


'Please, have some tea.' For refugees, civility before danger.

October 2, 2015                                                                  PRI's The World

IZMIR, Turkey  “Please, have some tea. Do you take sugar?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“This is Syrian tea. Please, it is our pleasure.”

 “Thank you.”

The Syrians I meet in the small square outside the Sinbad Restaurant in Izmir, Turkey are all fleeing an escalating war in their country they say has made it impossible for them to stay in their homes.

Sinbad Cafe in Basmane neighborhood in Izmir
Asas, a fashion designer from Damascus in his early 30s, tells me that mortar shells are falling all over the capital, even in formerly “safe” neighborhoods. Recently a bomb fell during his fashion show; the before-and-after photos on his mobile phone show elegant evening gowns, then exploded plaster and hanging wires.

Nour is just 17 and is traveling alone. “If you are walking in the streets suddenly you hear deeewwww,” he says, crouching a little, “a missile or an explosion. There is no life.” His two older brothers have already gone to Europe. His parents are still in Syria and call him constantly on Skype or Whatsapp. “My father’s soul is with me,” he says.


Rough Aegean Seas Don't Deter Refugees

 September 30, 2015                                                                   PRI's The World

IZMIR, Turkey  Reporter Jeanne Carstensen in Turkish town of Izmir tells host Carol Hills about new dangers facing the migrants and refugees who work with smugglers.


Landfall. A selfie. Another refugee celebrates survival.

 September 25, 2015                                                                         PRI's The World

LESBOS, Greece  Today I joined the pack of volunteers and media awaiting the arrival of refugee boats to the Greek island of Lesbos from Turkey — just a few miles away across the Aegean Sea.

My companions from the BBC and I had coffee in the picturesque fishing village of Sykaminia. An old Greek man with a bushy mustache sat on the dock slowly rinsing sand out of a freshly caught squid.
Refugees arrive to Lesbos from Turkey, Sept. 25, 2015

The stretch of coast on Lesbos where the biggest wave of refugees since World War II has been coming ashore is a rugged, mountainous landscape of steep olive groves and oaks dotted with small villages.

It’s easy to feel that here the time machine got jammed back around the beginning of the last century, until you look down the rocky shore and see that it is littered with the carcasses of destroyed inflatable boats and immense piles of hundreds of brightly colored life jackets left behind by refugees.


Migrants and Refugees Continue to Pour Ashore in Greece

 September 23, 2015                            PRI's The World

LESBOS, Greece  Twenty-six overcrowded boatloads of migrants and refugees landed on the Greek island of Lesbos Wednesday. Some 2,500 people made it ashore, after making the dangerous and expensive trip from Turkey. Host Marco Werman speaks with reporter Jeanne Carstensen on Lesbos.