Refugees' life jackets used to create peace symbol

Aid groups create message of peace for refugees Source: Greenpeace

Aid workers have used thousands of discarded life jackets used by refugees to form a peace sign on Lesbos island, saying it is a call for the EU to provide safe passage to asylum seekers.

NGOs and local groups on Lesbos island used some 3,000 discarded life jackets to create a peace sign on a hillside as a message of hope for 2016.

More than 3,770 migrants and refugees died in 2015 trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, making the year the deadliest on record for those seeking sanctuary from conflict and poverty, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

In honour of the refugees and migrants who have died at sea, activists have created the large peace sign and called on the EU to provide safe passage to refugees and migrants.

"They are looking for safety, that's exactly what they want and that's our message today."

"We had 2,500 life jackets approximately and 60 volunteers, and we want to send the message of safe passage to the world on New Year's day. Peace," said one of the activists, Paul.

"This symbolizes all these people who made it here. There are many others that didn't make it.

"These ones have to be provided with the safe passage that they really deserve in order to make it to safety. They are looking for safety, that's exactly what they want and that's our message today. To provide these people a safe passage and peace," said MSF aid worker Sammy.

The European Union's agency Frontex said earlier this week it had sent 293 employees - inspectors and translators - and 15 boats to the Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Leros, Samos and Kastelorizo, the most popular entry points for thousands of desperate people seeking to enter Europe.

Dozens more Frontex staff are to be dispatched to Greece over the coming weeks.

'These are very brave people'

Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei, who this week visited the island of Lesbos and witnessed firsthand the appalling conditions under which local authorities and foreign volunteers have to work, also warned of the dangers.

He called on the international community to do more to help Greece tackle this unprecedented refugee influx.

"The situation is getting very rough in the past week because weather is getting colder and the wind is very strong. The whole facility and the effort people making is quite fragile," Ai WeiWei said.

"They are very brave people, I see babies, moms and young men and old men. They sacrificed all they have to just come to the land, to have some protection and to meet the future which is unknown to them."

A record number of people fled their homes in 2015, with more than 60 million people uprooted by wars, conflict and persecution in countries ranging from Syria to South Sudan and Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.

Worldwide that means one person in every 122 has been forced to flee their home, displaced within their own country of forced to move to another country.

The organizers of the project said they hope it encourages others to think about the hardships faced by thousands of refugees and migrants every day. 

"We also urge our supporters to share the peace sign image in honour of the refugees and migrants and as a way of thanks to the volunteers and local communities on Lesbos working to ensure that 2016 can start with a safe passage," wrote campaigner Aaron Gray-Block in a post on the Greenpeace website.

Bad weather fails to deter asylum seekers

The gesture came as another dinghy boat overcrowded with migrants made the short but perilous journey from Turkey's shores to arrive on the Aegean island.

The increased presence of Europe's border monitoring agency Frontex in the Aegean did not deter people from making the hazardous crossing from Turkey to Greece over the new year.

More than one million refugees and migrants braved the seas in 2015 seeking sanctuary in Europe, nearly five times more than in the previous year, the United Nations' refugee agency said earlier this week.

About half of the 1,000,573 men, women and children who made the perilous journey came from war-torn Syria, the UNHCR said.

Most people who took to the water for Europe made their way on the Aegean sea to Greece's islands from neighboring Turkey on rubber or wooden dinghy boats.

Such a boat laden with men, women, children and babies reached the northern shores of Lesbos in the early hours on New Year's day.

Foreign aid workers and volunteers provided first aid, dry clothes and thermal blankets to the soaking wet and freezing cold migrants.

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