Services & Software

A story behind the story: The life jacket graveyard of Lesvos

Commentary: For our Road Trip 2016 reporting on how tech is being used in the global refugee crisis, we made a side trip that reminded us of the people making desperate voyages.

Now playing: Watch this: The Life Jacket Memorial

This is part of our Road Trip 2016 summer series "Life, Disrupted," about how technology is helping with the global refugee crisis -- if at all.

On a warm June day, we drove up a steep dirt road, seemingly heading nowhere as the sun set on the island of Lesvos. We noticed a few life jackets scattered by the road, trying to follow the sketchy directions we were given earlier on where to find a supposed life jacket memorial by the north shore.

We drive on, wondering not for the first time if we're still lost.

Finally, we turn a corner and see it: mountains of life jackets piled on top of each other, set in an otherwise empty field surrounded by serene hills. Most are fluorescent orange. Others are red or green. Some are just plastic floaties for kids. There must be tens of thousands of them.

They provide a stark portrait of the many refugees who crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to get here.

Interspersed in the giant piles are torn, black rubber rafts, a sofa chair, shoes, water bottles, a broken baby carrier, a pair of jeans. The smell is unbearably rank in some places, stinking of garbage and salt. There are the sound of crickets and dogs barking in the distance. Fat black flies buzz around.

Some now see the site as a memorial, a place to remind others of the desperate voyages. Someone even put up a small plaque. But we realize the place is actually a dump.

See all the stories in our series Road Trip 2016: Life, Disrupted.