Almost 1,200 migrants crammed onto overcrowded inflatable dinghies have been picked up by Greek authorities in the eastern Aegean Sea in the past two days.
Packed boats were being towed on to the shores of Kos, with refugees dropping to their knees to pray after completing the perilous journey from Turkey.
Boats containing dozens of migrants have also been taken to the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Farmakonisi in recent days.
After Italy, financially crippled Greece is the main destination for refugees, mostly from war-ravaged Syria plus economic migrants seeking a better life in the EU. About 30,000 have already arrived this year.
On the island of Kos, some of the new arrivals– mainly Syrians fleeing ISIS– are staying in a deserted hotel.
Kos, which is only 25 miles long and five miles wide, is of particular concern to the authorities, with many people-trafficking boats able to land without detection.
Despite being under Greek control, most of the Aegean islands are closer to Turkey, with Kos just two miles from Bodrum. Journeys from the port take as little as 20 minutes, with migrants paying smugglers up to 800 euros each for a place on a boat.
While some traffickers carry out several journeys a day, other migrants land on inflatable dinghies that are discarded on the island’s pristine beaches. A police station built to hold only 36 people has become a refugee camp after more than 200 migrants with nowhere else to sleep were packed in. Dozens settled in the building’s courtyard, living in filthy and cramped conditions.
Turkey currently shelters about two million refugees, and thousands of them attempt to cross the borders with Bulgaria and Greece and seek refuge in the EU.
Protective fences have been built in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Ankara, Turkey, to stop the flow of people.
The three countries have long discussed setting up joint police teams to patrol the border.
So far this year, some 1,770 migrants have died on the hazardous journey to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration, a 30-fold increase on the same period in 2014.
EU leaders held a summit in April in a bid to prevent the number of people illegally traveling to Europe from Africa and the Middle East on unsafe boats.
The meeting followed the deaths of around 800 migrants, including children, in a smuggling boat bound for Italy that capsized. UN chief Ban Ki-moon yesterday urged Europe to do more to help migrants crossing the Mediterranean, calling for search and rescue teams to be ‘further strengthened’.
Greece has asked for more assistance from EU authorities in coping with the flow, and EU commissioner for immigration Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is Greek, was in discussions with government officials in Athens on Tuesday.