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Migrants from Syria paddle toward shore while completing a journey in a small dinghy crossing a three mile stretch of the Aegean Sea from Turkey in Kos, Greece.Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Almost everything about Alan Kurdi's short life was unfair. One of the biggest, and finally fatal, inequities was that his family spent €4,000 ($5,900) for space on a rubber dinghy when seats on a modern catamaran making the same trip – from the Turkish resort of Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos – were available for just €20 each.

The voyage that drowned three-year-old Alan, his five-year-old brother, Ghalib, and their mother, Rehanna, is a painless 35-minute ride for those with the right passports.

The Turkish exit visa – a document Alan's uncle, Mohammad, was missing when he and his family applied for refugee status in Canada, and which is extremely difficult for Syrian refugees in Turkey to obtain – is granted to Western travellers with a quick stamp from a border guard at the port in Bodrum. The guard barely bothers to flick through the passports he's presented with.

For the huddled refugees in Turkey – Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis – the island of Kos, visible in the distance from almost anywhere in Bodrum, has become an almost mythical place in their imaginations. After Kos, they believe the journey onward to countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden will get easier.

But the welcome on Kos, never particularly warm, is turning increasingly hostile.

Last week, a group of asylum seekers, including children, was attacked outside the main Kos police station by a group of 15 to 25 men, some brandishing bats. Eliza Goroya, an Amnesty International researcher who witnessed the incident, says that while no one was seriously injured during the assault, Kos police appeared deliberately slow in intervening, allowing the attack to unfold before taking any action. She said one of the thugs shouted his allegiance to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn movement, which has risen in prominence as Greece's own economic and political crises have deepened.

It wasn't the first incident of violence involving migrants on Kos, an island home to just 30,000 people in normal times, but which has seen tens of thousands of asylum seekers pass through already this year. In August, police used batons and tear gas against a crowd demanding registration papers that would allow them to travel onward to Athens. A local hotel where volunteers prepare meals for the island's swelling migrant population has seen two recent fires, at least one of which is believed to have been arson, though no arrests have been made.

Ms. Goroya says the police inaction is a symptom of the local government's intolerance of the asylum seekers. Aid workers and volunteers here say Mayor Yorgos Kyritsis has resisted efforts to build any kind of refugee reception centre on the island. As a result, most of the 4,000-plus migrants currently on Kos awaiting documentation are sleeping in tents erected around the police station and along the walls of the city's postcard-worthy medieval fort.

After what is often a two-week wait for registration, migrants can buy a ticket – which costs €60 for adults and children alike – on a specially designated boat to Athens. From there, they are again on their own. Most start walking north, following the now well-worn route through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary.

Ms. Goraya said many tourist restaurants in Kos refuse to serve the asylum seekers. Most public toilets in the city have also been locked to prevent migrants from using them, forcing new arrivals to wash and shave in the Aegean Sea, sometimes within sight of sunbathing tourists.

"It literally makes me sick to look at all the glowing souvlaki menu boards [outside restaurants] when everyone says there's no food to feed the refugees," Ms. Goraya said. "The refugees have no food, no toilets, no water and no reception centre. And the police force of a small island dealing with a crisis of global proportions."

Greece, which is battling bankruptcy and facing snap elections that could determine its future in the euro zone, registered a staggering 125,000 arrivals by sea during the first seven months this year, a 750-per-cent increase over the same period last year. Tens of thousands more have crossed overland from Turkey, often avoiding the authorities along the way. The tensions on Kos are replicated on islands throughout the Greek archipelago. There were clashes reported on the island of Lesbos on Sunday, pitting Syrian asylum seekers against Afghans.

The migrants' tent city on Kos occupies the southern end of the palm-tree-lined main marina. The makeshift accommodations are close enough to the tourist stretch that families of Syrians bedding down for the night can hear music and shouting from a row of bars less than 100 metres away.

By day, refugee women clad in head scarves and long abayas awkwardly share space on the boardwalk with Westerners in their bathing suits.

The scene has led to plummeting tourist arrivals, with one restaurateur saying 2015 has been the worst in the 25 years he's done business on Kos. Tourist arrivals are off by 7 per cent so far this year, according to official statistics, with several travel websites reporting much bigger plunges in Kos bookings. Taxi drivers say their business has fallen even more sharply, as tourists who do come to Kos fearfully remain in their hotels at night, despite the fact there has been no reported increase in crime on the island.

"It's too much. The tourists aren't coming because of the migrants," said Stavros Bachares, owner of the popular G-Plaza café overlooking the marina. He said the tourism industry's high season – five months during which residents have to make enough money to live on for the rest of the year – had been ruined.

Mr. Bachares said Kos residents had been sympathetic when the first wave of Syrian refugees began arriving in the spring. But frustration grew as those fleeing war were joined by what appeared to be economic migrants from as far away as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Central Africa. "Look, one of my staff is from Pakistan, another is from Albania. Both have all the documents and they pay taxes in Greece. But now I speak like a racist."

The asylum seekers stuck on Kos are just as unhappy with the situation. Many say they feel trapped on the island, unable to travel further because they lack the necessary money and documents.

"Life is very bad here. There's no food. The police beat us," said Faisal Ahmed, a 33-year-old from the Syrian city of Raqqa, which is now the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State. He said he had no passport, and no money to pay for a ferry to Athens because he lost both during his own boat journey from Bodrum two weeks ago.

"I would rather go back to Raqqa than live like this," he said, before withdrawing the remark. "I just want to go to Athens, and then to Germany. But they won't let us. I don't know why."

Sevastianos Maillis, one of the volunteers who helps run the food-distribution program out of the arson-targeted Captain Elias Hotel, said the local authorities appear to have no plan for dealing with the influx, other than hoping it ends soon.

"The problem is that the mayor is not taking any action, so people are getting frustrated and thinking that the refugees are the problem."