Rubber dinghies packed with men, women and children have become a powerful symbol of the refugee crisis. They are a stark reminder of the risks that people will take as they flee wars raging in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, as well as human rights abuses in Eritrea.
Greece is one of the key gateways to Europe. Many refugees pay thousands to cross to its Aegean archipelago from Turkey in flimsy inflatable rafts or wooden fishing boats. Lesbos is one such island.This photo essay focuses on the moment of arrival: the relief, the fear, the cold, the uncertainty. These desperate people are often overwhelmed by a complex, conflicting set of emotions after the dangerous crossing, which can take up to three hours.
Many had crossed in rough conditions and all faced powerful currents. Some of the dinghies had begun to deflate halfway across. On others, outboard motors had cut out.Most boats were packed with an average of 50 people, many of them educated, middle-class civilians.
The lucky ones landed on gently-sloping beaches; others, less fortunate, on hostile, rocky shores.Some cheered and clapped while others broke down in tears.
In the absence of larger NGOs, local volunteers provide vital assistance, handing out medicine and dry clothes. The refugees would briefly rest then walk miles on dirt roads to makeshift bus stations. From here, they would travel to the island’s port town of Mytilene to continue the next leg of their journey to Athens by ferry, before undertaking the perilous route through the Balkans.
Countless life jackets litter the beaches, together with many abandoned boats. Men trawl the shoreline to salvage the kit and sell it back to the smugglers. In Greece, more than 210,000 refugees and migrants are estimated to have arrived since the beginning of 2015. The same number again is expected before the end of year. The tide of humanity, it seems, is far from reaching its high-water mark.
Lesbos - September 22, 2015 - Christine, a Christian refugee from Damascus, Syria, takes a selfie minutes after arriving from Turkey on a rubber raft. © ANP / Pierre Crom
Lesbos - September 23, 2015 - A man wears a thermal blanket minutes after arriving in Greece on a rubber raft from Turkey. © Pierre Crom
Lesbos - September 24, 2015 - Remains of rubber rafts and life jackets. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Lesbos - September 24, 2015 - A man holding a boy falls as refugees arrive from Turkey with a rubber raft. © Pierre Crom
Lesbos - September 26, 2015 - Refugees arrived in Greece from Turkey with a rubber raft. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Lesbos - September 28, 2015 - Refugees arrive in Greece from Turkey with a rubber raft. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images