Over two thousand life jackets worn by refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe were on display outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday, to mark the United Nations Migration Summit taking place in New York.
A traditional tourist spot, Parliament Square presented a different photo opportunity for visitors to the capital, and a double-take for those working in the local area. Organised by a coalition of charities including the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and World Vision, the one-day installation of 2,500 life vests reflected the lives of those who experienced the treacherous stretch of sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Chios.
Sanj Srikanthan of the International Rescue Committee (U.K.) said 650 of the life jackets were used by children. “You can see the Disney stickers on some of them,” he told TIME. “They represent a snapshot of what refugees go through and are an illusion of safety; many of them are not even seaworthy. For a day at least, we want to bring an image of what it is to be a refugee to the people of London.”
One of the volunteers who set up the installation was Ahmad al-Rashid, who survived this journey from his hometown of Aleppo and is about to start a master’s degree. “The last time I used a life jacket, I was crossing from Turkey to Greece, so it’s very close to my heart,” he said. “Now it’s become a global crisis – it needs a global response.”
The U.N. estimates that a record 65.3 million people were either refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced at the end of 2015. Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who attended the opening of the installation, said this week’s summit at the UN General Assembly was a chance for action.
“The U.N. Summit ought to be an opportunity for countries to work together to tackle what is now the most serious humanitarian crisis since World War II,” Cooper said. “If countries don’t work together, it is far harder to help refugees and Britain needs to do its bit as part of that.”
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