Lesbos, Greece — The sheer numbers are truly staggering.
Globally, there are now more than 60 million refugees, internally displaced people and asylum-seekers around the world, compared to 38 million just a decade ago, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. More than 1 million people crossed into Europe as refugees and migrants in 2015 — a fourfold increase compared to last year, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than half of Syria's population of 23 million people has been displaced since the civil war began in 2011, with more than 1 million people fleeing the country in 2015.
In Lesbos, Greece, a small island located just six miles from Turkey that has become a crucial waypoint for refugees entering Europe, 406,206 refugees had arrived as of Nov. 20, according to the UNHCR. Despite the winter temperatures, and increased patrolling by Turkish authorities, the total number of refugees continued to surge this fall, with approximately 125,000 refugees landing by boat on Lesbos in October alone.
No statistic, however, captures what this crisis feels like on the ground, for the refugees who risk everything to journey across the dangerous waters of the Aegean Sea to attempt to build a new life in Europe.
I spent the past week in Greece, watching as refugees, piled by the dozens into small and flimsy inflatable boats, made landfall on Lesbos' shores, one after the next and often in the middle of the night. The majority of refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Each has their own harrowing story of what life was like in the place they once called home, whether fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, watching a family member get murdered by Islamic State militants in Iraq or seeing their home get flattened by airstrikes in Syria. Once they arrive on Lesbos, refugees receive immediate medical assistance from international and local humanitarian aid organizations, before attempting to continue their journey to the north of Greece, with the hope of settling in a country in western Europe.
The following photos show what the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II actually looks like on the ground, for the desperate refugees who attempt this dangerous journey.