7 Heartbreaking Photos That Show The Human Faces Of Europe’s Refugee Crisis


It’s the photo you couldn’t not see if you were online this week: the body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who was laid to rest with his brother and mother on Friday. His body was discovered washed up on a Turkish beach in sneakers, blue shorts and a red shirt on Wednesday after the small rubber boat he and his family were travelling in — a desperate attempt to seek asylum in Europe — capsized. But his death is far from an isolated incident; rather, it’s part of an ongoing migrant and refugee crisis, driven in large part by the Syrian civil war that began four years ago. More and more shocking images are emerging from across Europe, offering a window into the refugee crisis there. This year alone, dozens of harrowing scenes have played out as more than 366,000 refugees and migrants made their way to Europe across the Mediterranean, with the numbers of arrivals skyrocketing in August.

The majority of those making the journey are refugees, fleeing war and willing to risk their lives in hopes of finding safety. Other are economic migrants searching for better opportunities in western Europe. Here are just seven of the stories that paint a much, much larger picture.


The woman searching for family in Macedonia


A woman migrant, right, with a baby looks for her family in the crowd of migrants waiting to enter Macedonia near Gevgelija, on Aug. 21, 2015.


A woman with a baby looked for her family in a crowd of hundreds who waited to enter Macedonia on August 21. The family was trying to pass through a police blockade set up at the railway tracks on the border with Greece, near the southern town of Gevgelija. About 39,000 people, mostly Syrian refugees, were registered as passing through the country over the past month, twice as many as the July.

They previously encountered little resistance at the border, but large crowds have overwhelmed Macedonian authorities, who declared a state of emergency and stopped many from crossing.

The child crying on a crowded train of refugees



A young child cries as hundreds of migrants try to board a train at the Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, September 3.


Some 3,000 people had camped outside the Keleti station in Budapest as Hungary blocked refugees from getting on trains on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. On Thursday, hundreds of refugees who have been camped out there for days were finally allowed to board trains leaving the station that morning.

Most of the people who boarded were hoping to travel to western Europe to apply for asylum. When the trains were halted in nearby Bicske station, many on board ignored police demands and marched right out of Hungary. Photographers captured this upsetting photo of a small child weeping in the crushing crowd.


The refugee couple lying down on train tracks in Hungary



A migrant holding her child is detained in Bicske, Hungary on September 3.


Desperate scenes played out at Budapest’s central train station this week, as thousands of refugees attempted to board trains to flee to other parts of Europe.

Men, women and children packed onto trains without water or food, bound for a town just outside Budapest, where riot police attempted to move them into refugee transit camps. One couple, clutching a small baby in their arms, laid down on the tracks and demanded they not be taken to refugee camps. Police tried to pull them from the tracks.


The father weeping upon arriving in Greece


“I am overwhelmed by the reaction to this family’s tears of relief. This is why I do what I do.” 

Daniel Etter, a photographer working for the New York Times, captured a photo of a father clutching his children and weeping as they arrived safely on the Greek island of Kos in the early hours of Aug. 16.

The family had crossed over from Turkey on an overcrowded rubber dinghy that was quickly losing air and filling with water. The father, Laith Majid, along with his wife Nada and their children Taha, Ahmed, Moustafa and Nour had left Syria two weeks earlier and paid smugglers $6,500 for the trip.

“In my entire career as a journalist, I have never been so overwhelmed by a moment that I was lucky enough to witness, and lucky enough to photograph,” Etter wrote in The Guardian. “They cried tears of joy and relief that they and their children had made it, but also tears of sadness over all they had gone through during the last weeks, months and years. There was just so much love between them in that moment.”


The refugees met by riot police at the Macedonian border


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A man holding his small child are stuck between Macedonian riot police officers and migrants during a clash near the border on August 21.


Hundreds of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia on Aug. 21 were met by riot police and tear gas as the country cracked down on the growing crowds entering the country.

The men, women and children, most of whom are refugees fleeing the ongoing conflict in Syria, were met by force as they tried to enter the town of Gevgelija, a main transit point for those seeking asylum in northern Europe.


The people scrambling from a sinking boat in Rhodes


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People scramble to safety at Zefyros beach in Rhodes, Greece on April 20.


At least three people, including a child, were killed, while 93 others were rescued when a wooden boat carrying dozens who had departed Turkey ran aground off the Greek island of Rhodes on April 21. Dramatic photos showed them clinging to pieces of wreckage as rescuers helped them ashore.

The incident followed a series of shipwrecks that claimed the lives of an estimated 1,600 migrants in the first four months of this year, as good weather brought thousands to the sea attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.


The tourists and refugees standing side-by-side in Kos



Migrants stand outside their tent in front of a castle in Kos, Greece, on August 11.


The Greek island of Kos has long been a tourist destination for western Europeans flocking to its beautiful beaches. It has also become the first stop in Europe for refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey.


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