From Lesbos: Between Hope and Despair

We can argue about politics, the economy, religion and anything else we can think of, but there should be no argument when it comes to human lives in peril. I come from a country, Greece, that has been facing the worse economic crisis in its modern history. Its people have been suffering more than anyone living abroad will ever know. This past year has probably been the most burdensome for Greece and the most trying for its people.

In 2015, Greece has had to deal with yet another drama, the humanitarian crisis of the refugees. Throughout the year, thousands of people have been flooding the coasts of Greece on a daily basis, and many have lost their lives on their way here. To date, more than 800,000 souls have entered through Greece's eastern coastal boarders. They have been arriving in boats, piled like cattle, hungry, wet, cold and exhausted. The few belongings they own fit in backpacks, and some don't even have that. The fact that these people risk their lives and the lives of their children to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey means that the perilous crossing is safer than dry land. Desperation, along with hope, are etched on their faces. Upon safe arrival, some dance and sing, others burst into tears.

The Greek people faced with this crisis on a daily basis are to be commended: most try to help in any way they can. Old women pick up wet clothes from the beaches, wash them and dry them to hand them to the next group of people arriving in need for something dry to wear. Others offer sandwiches and beverages; fishermen help boats in danger and are often faced with the gruesome task of collecting drowned bodies... they all help in their own way, and with what little resources they have. Sometimes, a big smile and a hug can make a huge difference in someone's life.

Talking to the locals, I kept hearing the same story over and over: they see history repeating itself. They can all relate to those refugees, as they were themselves refugees once upon a time, when they all arrived en masse from Asia Minor. "The only difference," as they said, "is that no one was waiting for us when we arrived. We were alone, slept in fields out in the cold and had nobody to provide for us. We are very familiar with what these people are going through, and we want to help."

The harsh winter has not deterred those crossing over, nor have the closed borders of some European countries unwilling to accept refuges. Europe has, on several occasions, seen its children migrate for a better life. Now is the time for Europe to welcome others in real need of a safer and better life. It's time for Europe and the whole world to go beyond numbers and statistics and face this huge humanitarian crisis in a responsible way, before more lives are lost in the cold and the harshness of winter. People's lives cannot be the object of political blackmail; this should not be a world we would want to live in.

I don't believe that my images do what I've witnessed on several trips to Lesbos justice. However, if I manage to touch even a few people with these images, I will consider myself successful. There are still too many people out there who will conveniently shy away from this reality.

You can view more of Margarita's work on her website: www.margaritamavromichalis.com