Thousands of life jackets have been laid outside the British Parliament to commemorate refugee deaths


As the United Nations summit on migrants and refugees begins in New York, campaigners in the UK have created a “life jacket graveyard” on Parliament Square in London to raise awareness of the ongoing crises. The installation by Snappin’ Turtle productions is to commemorate those who died trying to get to Europe. Almost 7,000 people died or went missing trying to reach European shores in the last 20 months, they say.

For one day, from 5am to 6pm BST (British Summer Time), 2,500 lifejackets worn by refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Greece are on display. The installation is being supported by organizations including the UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency), International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Life jackets in Parliament Square in London
Hashtags to mobilize social media. (Quartz/Eshe Nelson)

All the life jackets were collected on the Greek island of Chios, and 625 belonged to children. Snappin’ Turtles collected the abandoned life jackets while they were filming in Greece, stopping them from being sent to a landfill. Each one is there to represent three people who have died or gone missing.

“You’ll see that some of them aren’t really life jackets they are just flimsy bits of bright material,” said Lucy Keating of the IRC. Up close you can see that many of them wouldn’t be of any use in the sea—they are thin, torn, and many aren’t even waterproof.

Flimsy and torn. (Quartz/Eshe Nelson)
Life jackets in Parliament Square in London
A child’s jacket. (Quartz/Eshe Nelson)

Keating said the goals of the visual installation tied to the UN summit are to persuade wealthy western countries to accept more refugees and offer options for safe passage, as well as improve the aid spending to Jordan, Turkey, and other countries that are taking in the majority of refugees, and allow refugees to have right to work in the countries where they take refuge.

Life jackets in Parliament Square in London
Life jacket graveyard. (Quartz/Eshe Nelson)
epa05547656 Rahela Sidiqi, Trustee for the charity 'Women for Refugee Women' sits amongst life jackets worn by fleeing refugees in Parliament Square in London, Britain, 19 September 2016. Thousands of life-jackets were laid out in Parliament Square to highlight the need to protect refugees and migrants. The jackets serve as a visual reminder of the suffering and risks hundreds of thousands of refugees have endured. World leaders are meeting at the United Nations Migration summit in New York these days.  EPA/ANDY RAIN
Rahela Sidiqi, of Women for Refugee Women sits amongst life jackets. (EPA/Andy Rain)

“For a day at least, we want to bring an image of what it is to be a refugee to the people of London,” Sanj Srikanthan of the IRC told Time. There are an estimated 65 million refugees in the world, a number which is rising sharply. Among EU nations, the UK has been one of the most criticized for its marginal contribution to the resettlement program. Earlier this year, David Cameron famously refused to relocate 3,000 refugee children to the UK (he later acquiesced).

A similar installation was also set up in Brooklyn, New York, on Sept. 16, by Oxfam America.

In this Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, hundreds of life jackets line the shore of the New York City waterfront in the Brooklyn borough of New York, placed there by advocates with Oxfam America to draw attention to the refugee crisis. Many of the life jackets used for the action had been collected on beaches in Greece after being  used by adult and child refugees. The undertaking was a prelude to the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants. The question of what to do about the world’s 65.3 million displaced people takes center stage at the UN General Assembly Monday, Sept. 19, when leaders from around the globe converge on New York for the first-ever summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
The “graveyard of life jackets” in Brooklyn, New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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