Photos of the Last Refugees Entering Europe Through the Greek Islands


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Photos of the Last Refugees Entering Europe Through the Greek Islands

In January, photographer Elliot Ross documented the arrival of some of the last asylum seekers entering Europe through the Greek islands.

Orange life vests discarded by asylum seekers ring Lesbos's coastline.

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Since the beginning of last year, more than a million asylum seekers, about half fleeing war and starvation in Syria, have attempted to reach Europe by crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greek islands such as Lesbos and Chios. Despite the dangers of traversing the heavily policed waters on crowded inflatable rafts, landing on Greek shores has been the surest route to refugee status in Europe. Once they arrive, asylum seekers are housed in camps like Moria, on Lesbos, while they wait to receive refugee status and find out if they can move farther into Europe.


This March, in an attempt to stem the flow of refugees to the Continent, the EU and Turkey reached a deal designed to cut off the Aegean route. In a move that humanitarian groups argue violates international law, Europe's border agency began sending asylum seekers entering Europe through the Greek islands back to Turkey. The gate to Europe relied on by so many has been effectively closed. (In exchange, Turkish citizens were promised visa-free travel in Europe and a resumption of EU membership talks.) In January, photographer Elliot Ross in collaboration with a team of documentary filmmakers from Magna Carta traveled to meet some of the last asylum seekers entering Europe through the Greek islands.

To see a trailer of Magna Carta's Refuge, a documentary chronicling human stories focused on humanity and hope from the European Refugee Crisis, please visit their site.

A volunteer helps an elderly woman off a raft recently arrived on the shores of Lesbos.

Car tire inner tubes dot the waters off the coast of Lesbos. The tubes serve as makeshift floatation devices for those who cannot afford proper life preserves, which are often subject to extreme price gouging.

Blankets provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees pile up in an abandoned building on the Greek island of Leros as refugees shed bulk in preparation for advancing farther into Europe.

Mohamed, a Syrian refugee, awaits registration in a stairwell in an abandoned building on Leros.

An asylum seeker from Algeria gets his hair cut on Leros. Deemed an economic migrant, he has been barred from traveling beyond Greece.

Trees in the Moria camp have been stripped of their branches for use as firewood. More-recent arrivals have resorted to burning clothing and blankets to stave off freezing temperatures.

Sana Waled Gazmate Mardini and Mohammed Shaher Mardini stand in an abandoned building on Leros. Mohammed owned a group of lingerie factories in Damascus, where his wife, Sana, served as general manager, before the couple fled the war.

Mohammed, a 15-year-old boy from Beirut, sits flanked by his uncle and father at the Eleonas camp, in Athens. The boat carrying Mohammed and his family from Turkey capsized, and the Greek coast guard rescued everyone on board and brought them ashore. They were among the lucky ones. Last year, more than 3,700 refugees drowned trying to cross into Europe.

Faradj Aissa looks out the window of an empty building on Leros. Volunteers provide asylum seekers with sandwiches and bottled water while they await registration with Greek authorities.

Sanaa Karom poses for a portrait just moments after receiving papers giving her refugee status in the EU. Karom fled Aleppo, Syria, with a handful of women and girls whom ISIS fighters had tried to make their sex slaves.

A Congolese man waits in the Eleonas camp. His refugee application having been denied, he will most likely be deported back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.