A warning from the United Nations special representative for international migration and two photo essays by photographers covering the refugee crisis on Lesbos alert to the scale and tragic nature of a disaster unprecedented in its size and scope.

Britain will be adopting a morally unacceptable position if it turns its back on the refugee crisis in Europe, according to the United Nations special representative for international migration.

As winter weather sets in across Europe, Peter Sutherland, a former attorney general of Ireland, and chairman of the London School of Economics, said: “This is not a transient issue. It challenges the moral fabric of the societies we live in. To think, to be told, that your country can in some way isolate itself from the crisis is insane. It’s completely wrong.” Sutherland added: “Are we going to allow refugees to stand in freezing rivers at our borders this winter, to live in freezing tents with their children?”

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Dinghies filled with migrants approach Lesbos, early October 2015 (AFP/Aris Messinis )
Dinghies filled with migrants approach Lesbos, early October 2015 (AFP/Aris Messinis )

Meanwhile … Aris Messinis is Agence France-Press photographer in Lesbos writes:

The most shocking thing for me about covering this story is that you constantly realize that you’re not in a warzone. That you’re working in a place where there is peace. But the emotions that you’re capturing with your lens are the same.

I’ve worked in Syria and Libya. I know what a warzone looks like. You expect to see things like this there. You don’t expect to see them on Lesbos.

The human pain is the same as in a war, but just knowing that you are not in a warzone makes it much more emotional. And much more painful.

See his photos here

A drowned child lies on a Lesbos beach. AFP Aris Messinis
A drowned child lies on a Lesbos beach. (AFP/ Aris Messinis)

Since mid-October Giles Dulay has been on Lesbos as part of a long-term project for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), documenting the refugee crisis across Europe and the Middle East. In the Observer he writes of the human drama unfolding on the beaches of Lesbos: ‘In its sheer scale, it is hard to comprehend; the lack of response impossible to explain or excuse.’

The events of the past few years are unprecedented in size and scope. Not since the second world war have so many people been on the move. The UNHCR estimates there are more than 60 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, with over 4 million Syrians alone leaving their war-torn country to seek safety in neighbouring countries and Europe.

On Lesbos, I have watched thousands land, fleeing wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Again and again they say to me: “We thought we would die on that boat, but at least there was some chance; what we left behind was certain death.”

On landing, men break down into tears, women stand lost in visible shock, children cry hysterically. The noise and chaos is deafening; humanity is laid bare on the shores of Europe and the response from politicians is a shambles. It is volunteers who hold this frontline; often taking unpaid leave from work, bringing their own equipment and living in whatever accommodation they can find; a nurse from Palestine, a doctor from Israel, lifeguards from Barcelona; from Bolton to Oslo, everyday people are making a difference.

Dulay’s photos – ‘A cemetery of souls’ – can be viewed on the Observer website here.

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2 thoughts on “Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos

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