Over a million migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, most of whom were Syrian refugees traveling from Turkey to Greece. Unfortunately, many of them didn't realize that their life jackets wouldn't stop them from drowning.
Now thousands of life jackets are currently piled on the Greek island of Lesbos as a heartbreaking reminder of the people who died in the water while fleeing their war-torn countries in attempts to reach Europe. Not only are tons of the jackets fake, but they're also stuffed with packaging or made of sponge, which absorbs water and causes the wearer to sink rather than float.
The pile sits just above the village of Molyvos, where residents brought blankets, dry clothes, and hot food to the refugees as they were coming out of the cold Aegean Sea. It is made up of at least 150,000 jackets, but according to Eric Kempson, who runs The Hope Project to aid the migrants arriving on boats, the pile used to be twice its size.
"It brings back a lot of memories, a lot of screaming, a lot of shouting, a lot of crying - and the bodies," he said. "We lost a lot of people because of the life jackets."
The life jackets were purchased in Turkish shops and cost much less than properly made jackets. For a lot of migrants, it was what they could afford.
Barber shop in Izmir, Turkey advertises life jackets in Arabic to Syrians making illegal sea trip to Greek islands pic.twitter.com/efT2tw9QCG— Ivan Watson (@IvanCNN) September 8, 2015
According to the International Organization for Migration, over 3,700 people died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2015.
Kempson says migrants are still attempting to reach Lesbos: "A lot people think it is over with, but it has never stopped." Many try to cross during the winter and risk suffering from frostbite and hypothermia.