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Thousands Of Life Jackets Laid Out In Parliament Square In Moving Tribute To Refugees

More than 2,500 life jackets, which had been used by refugees to cross the Mediterranean, have been placed below Big Ben.

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Around 2,500 vests were laid out in lines on Parliament Square overnight, creating a dramatic spectacle for Monday-morning commuters that was labelled a "life jacket graveyard."

Dozens of volunteers arrived at 5 a.m. to unload the lorry carrying the life jackets — 625 of them were used by children.

The display, which was organised by production company Snappin’ Turtle Productions and supported by refugee charities, is designed to raise the profile of the UN Summit on refugees that is happening in New York on Monday.

On the day of the UN summit we are #WithRefugees. Lifejacket graveyard appearing in Parliament Sq. #LifeJacketLondon

Snappin’ Turtle director Michael Traboulsi said "each jacket tells its own story, whether it’s an adult or a child or a whole family."

Twitter / @4refugeewomen / Via Twitter: @4refugeewomen

"By seeing the jackets first hand we hope people will think carefully about why families are being forced to take such risks and will challenge governments around the world to do more," he said.

A number of refugees at Parliament Square talked to people about their experiences of fleeing war.

Twitter / IRCUK / Via Twitter: @IRCuk

Ahmad, 26, is from Aleppo in Syria and fled in May 2015. He traveled into Turkey after crossing his own country, then from Turkey to Greece in a dinghy.

“The last time I saw a life jacket I was on a dinghy with 88 people crossing from Turkey to Greece," he told BuzzFeed News. Ahmad said half of the people on the boat were women and children, "and they were all crying."

"I remember there was one child, he was about 2 or something, his mother came over with this small, very small, life jacket saying, ‘Please, please, help me fasten it.’ We found out it was a fake life jacket, and we were so shocked," he said. "That is what these life jackets bring back."

After he made it to Greece, Ahmad traveled to the French port of Calais, then was smuggled into the UK in the back of a lorry.

"If you are a Syrian," he said, "wherever you look there is death. There is bombing, there is shelling, there are snipers. The last resort is sea. But it is still not safe, it is still dangerous."

Twitter / @iankugler / Via Twitter: @iankugler

Ahmad said people in Europe and the UK needed to understand the desperation of those trapped in Syria. "Imagine, if you are a father or a mother, you wake up one day and find you are under bombings, under shellings, and the only way you have to [get out] is to cross the sea.

"Imagine you see your child, your daughter, in front of your eyes in the middle of the sea and you don’t have an option. What are you going to do?"

Dr. Javid Abdelmoneim, a Médecins Sans Frontières doctor, said more people needed to speak out about the crisis and that the life jackets were a powerful reminder of the people who didn’t make it.

Abdelmoneim, who worked on the MSF vessel Aquarius for three weeks over the summer, said it was worrying that the number of deaths at sea were already up this year on last year’s total. “But don’t forget, these are the deaths that are counted. Bodies sink," he said.

“We don’t know if we are catching every rubber dinghy when we are out there in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libyan. This is just counted deaths.”

He noticed the type of person making the journey had changed: “Nearly 1 in 5 are children, under the age of 18, and about 90% of them are unaccompanied minors. That’s a much larger proportion from last year.”

“One of my patients was a seven-month-pregnant woman with a freshly broken ankle. Her bone was wobbling,” Abdelmoneim said. “What makes that woman get into a rubber dinghy in Libya? How does she even get there? She deserves not to have to walk on a broken ankle at seven months pregnant and not get in a rubber dinghy.”

Volunteers will also be at the site all day to answer questions before the life jackets are removed in the evening.

Alicia Melville-Smith is a homepage editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Alicia Melville-Smith at alicia.melville-smith@buzzfeed.com.

Rose Troup Buchanan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Rose Troup Buchanan at Rose.Buchanan@BuzzFeed.com.

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