In the early 1920s, the fledging Republic of Turkey and the relatively nascent state of Greece agreed on a historic population exchange. In rough terms, 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks left the western shores of Turkey while some half-million Muslim Greeks poured into the depopulated Turkish coast. The upheaval of humans, history and culture was powerful. Especially in Greece, which had a much smaller population, the influx marked a key moment in the country’s 20th century development.

Today, Greece faces another influx of Anatolian migrants. Yet these migrants, unlike the firmly rooted Greeks of the past, are only passing through the Greek/Turkish shores. Their ultimate goal: (western) Europe, in which Greece is just an inconvenient barrier.

Although the number of migrants began at a relatively small figure, it is growing quickly. This summer, 124,000 people have come by sea to the Greek islands, seven times more than last year. Meanwhile, a large number of the 1.6 million Syrians who are in limbo in Turkey also say they intend to make the crossing. The historic population exchange of the past has taken on a looming, contemporary face.

As the Middle East continues to buckle, people are flooding to the West from countries as far-flung as Pakistan, Eritrea and everywhere in between. Indeed, this year marks a moment in which Greece has surpassed Italy as the leading entry-point for boat-bound migrants to Europe.

Above, we find the story of a group of migrants who have found their way to Kos, an island on the eastern reaches of Greece’s (and Europe’s) territory. The Greek island, at points just 4 km away from Turkey, has become the site of a perplexing, overwhelming human flood. With the Greek state struggling to carry out its most basic functions, this extraordinary event is pushing the island to its limit.

—Alexander Strecker

Editors’ Note:
To find out more about this developing story, here are some places to start: Kathimerini, The Guardian, NPR.