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World War II 3 years on, Greece's Lesbos looks back at migrant crisis

Three years ago, the Greek island of Lesbos found itself at the heart of Europe's greatest migration crisis since World War II.

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At the height of the influx in 2015, some 5,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from war-torn Syria, were landing on Lesbos's beaches on a daily basis play

At the height of the influx in 2015, some 5,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from war-torn Syria, were landing on Lesbos's beaches on a daily basis

(AFP)

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Three years ago, the Greek island of Lesbos found itself at the heart of Europe's greatest migration crisis since World War II.

At the height of the influx, some 5,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from war-torn Syria, were landing on the island's beaches on a daily basis.

A woman sunbathing on a beach near the village of Skala Sykamineas, on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 3, 2018 (up) and a man walking in the middle of life jackets along the shore, as refugees and migrants arrive after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on September 27, 2015 play

A woman sunbathing on a beach near the village of Skala Sykamineas, on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 3, 2018 (up) and a man walking in the middle of life jackets along the shore, as refugees and migrants arrive after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on September 27, 2015

(AFP)

Hundreds never survived the journey across the Aegean Sea. More than 800 people, including many children, died in 2015 in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The situation quickly reached emergency proportions for beleaguered Lesbos authorities trying to regulate the flow, register the exhausted survivors, and find shelter for them.

Local residents hastened to lend support, providing blankets, clothes and food until the arrival of refugee agencies and volunteer groups.

Belongings of a bather on a beach near the village of Skala Sykamineas, on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 3, 2018 (up) and the body of a man lying on a beach on Lesbos, on November 1, 2015 play

Belongings of a bather on a beach near the village of Skala Sykamineas, on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 3, 2018 (up) and the body of a man lying on a beach on Lesbos, on November 1, 2015

(AFP)

Three years on, the situation has changed drastically.

An agreement brokered between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016, in which Turkish authorities promised to stop people-smugglers in return for EU aid, has limited the flow.

EU border agency Frontex vessels patrol the waters between Greece and Turkey, as do NATO ships.

Tourists walking on a beach near the village of Skala Sykamineas, on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 3, 2018 (up) and migrants arriving at the same place after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on October 29, 2015 play

Tourists walking on a beach near the village of Skala Sykamineas, on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 3, 2018 (up) and migrants arriving at the same place after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on October 29, 2015

(AFP)

Some 35-80 people currently arrive on a daily basis, but even this is enough to keep the island's holding camps near breaking point.

There are over 9,500 refugees and migrants currently on the island, with the main camp of Moria filled to more than double its capacity. Very few are allowed off the island -- mainly the ill and vulnerable -- and there are frequent outbreaks of violence.

Thousands of life jackets used by refugees and migrants during their journey across the Aegean sea lay in a dump on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 4, 2018 (up), and the same picture taken almost three years ago, on September 28, 2015 play

Thousands of life jackets used by refugees and migrants during their journey across the Aegean sea lay in a dump on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 4, 2018 (up), and the same picture taken almost three years ago, on September 28, 2015

(AFP)

Authorities are at pains to keep new arrivals out of the path of tourists. They are allowed to land at secluded beaches and directly transported to camps. The beaches are then quickly cleaned of life jackets, inflatable boats and other debris.

As they lounge in the sun, many visitors may not have an inkling that in the same spot where they have planted their towels and beach umbrellas, thousands of desperate people began a new chapter in their search for safety.

A view of a beach near the village of Skala Sykamineas, on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 3, 2018 (up) and, at the same place, men looking at the sea, next to the body of a man, on October 30, 2015, after a boat with refugees and migrants sank play

A view of a beach near the village of Skala Sykamineas, on the Greek island of Lesbos on August 3, 2018 (up) and, at the same place, men looking at the sea, next to the body of a man, on October 30, 2015, after a boat with refugees and migrants sank

(AFP)

And some never made it to safety at all.

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