COMING ASHORE

Lesbos, Greece - 2015

Throughout 2015 about one million people risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean to reach European shores. The great majority, about 800,000, took the Aegean Sea route, crossing the waters separating the Turkish coast and the Greek islands in highly precarious boats.

The island of Lesbos became the epicentre of that migratory route. For months, thousands of people fleeing war, persecution and misery in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, among other countries, tried to reach the coast of the small Greek territory.

This and other islands in the Aegean represented a gateway to the European Union for hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa— for them, Lesbos was a place of transit on their journey to more prosperous countries in central and northern Europe. But, to reach its shores, they had to risk their lives at sea.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 3,771 people died in the Mediterranean in 2015, although that figure only reflects the bodies that have been recovered. On Lesbos, a tourist destination easily accessed by any European, the deaths occurred within the ten kilometres of sea separating its coast from Turkey.

All these deaths could have been easily avoided if the will to do something existed within the European Union; but only a fraction of civil society was mobilized, and the main response of the authorities was to close EU borders and externalize control.