Looking back on 2015, I think the hardest thing I did was spend only parts of three days on the Greek island of Lesbos, when the drama of the migrant crisis playing out there demanded more time than this.
One million asylum seekers, many of them refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, crossed to Europe by sea in 2015. Half of these came via Lesbos, which is located in the Aegean Sea and has a resident population of about 86,000 people.
I will long remember standing on a hill on the island’s north coast, seeing dot after dot after dot in the distance, which were inflatable boats whose human figures would soon take shape as they drew nearer the beach. It made me think for a moment of Normandy, and what it might have been like for a German soldier in a beachside bunker at dawn on D-Day, looking hard at the horizon as the Allied landing was about to commence. I don’t mean that the number of vessels on Lesbos was anywhere near the same or that there was any fear for one’s safety. I mean the sense of trying to comprehend what you were seeing beyond the beach, of knowing you are looking at history, and at evidence of global dysfunction, bobbing upon the waves. Knowing that there were human souls in those fragile vessels, many of them surely terrified, as you watched from firm ground, ground that they anxiously wanted to achieve.
There was a joy in seeing the boats finally reach land, and witnessing the passengers’ relief as their feet at last made contact with the solid rocks and pebbles that form the coast. And a joy in watching people on the beach greet them with smiles and a helping hand, not least knowing they probably hadn’t seen too many of either in the previous days of their journey.
Following are 12 photos I took on Lesbos between October 23 and 25, 2015: