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Tears, relief and joy: Lesbos - the tiny Greek island on the frontline of Europe's refugee crisis

The faces displaying tears, relief and joy as more than 1,000 arrived on the shoreline of Lesbos. Credit: ITV News

By ITV News' Jamie Roberton, in Lesbos

ITV News witnessed the arrival of more than 1,000 refugees and migrants on a single day on the Greek island of Lesbos.

At least 30 boats - each carrying around 50 people - came ashore on Monday, leaving aid agencies and volunteers overwhelmed by the sheer volume of arrivals.

Today's events made it abundantly clear that Lesbos is on the frontline of Europe's migrant crisis - a crisis that is showing no sign of slowing.

  • 'There's a boat coming'

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An approaching boat can be heard either through the screams of young children or the cheers and claps of relieved children.

Spanish lifeguards are quick to try and guide it to a safe spot of coastline.

The calm conditions on Monday ensured scenes largely of jubilation rather than panic when the refugees finally reached dry land.

Many embraced each other, ecstatic at their arrival on the continent, while some rushed to their phones to contact worried relatives.

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Tears also flowed for many upon the realisation that they and their families had survived a journey that has cost the lives of countless others.

One Afghan was so exhausted he asked for help removing the life jacket that was suffocating his three-month-old son.

The man carries his son off the boat. Credit: ITV News

Another Syrian man asked ITV News to take a picture of him holding his life jacket above his head - a symbol of his victory against the perilous waves, perhaps.

A refugee holds his life jacket above his head. Credit: Jamie Roberton/ITV News
  • The flurry of arrivals

Thirty boats in under three hours. That's how many boats ITV News' team on the ground counted.

At one point, three dinghies came to shore in under 10 minutes.

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"It's non-stop - look there's more coming there, there, there and there," a Spanish lifeguard said, pointing at the incoming lightweight vessels.

  • The refugees
The arrival on the pebbled coastline saw the refugees complete a perilous sea journey that has claimed many lives this summer. Credit: Jamie Roberton/ITV News

A combination of fear, relief and joy was sketched on the faces of those that arrived.

When asked whether he was happy to be in Europe, a refugee in his 70s put his head in his hands and burst into tears.

Many were overwhelmed with emotion as they spoke to ITV News about their hope for a new life in Europe, away from the war and suffering back home.

"I left war and destruction in my country [Syria] - I want a great new life in Europe," said 20-year-old Mohamad.

Another said, "They are killing people - I have to come. Europe is so generous; thank you."

One Syrian man simply said: "They are killing everyone. They won't stop."

  • Their journey

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The refugees make the perilous journey across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Lesbos.

After being assisted by aid agencies and the coastguard, they travel between two and eight miles - depending on what part of the coast they land - to a help centre set up by the UN's refugee agency near Skala Skamnias.

They will then wait for a bus to either a camp in the village of Moria or to a centre close to the capital Mytilene.

Women, children and young families are prioritised.

A bus takes those less able to make the 17km journey to the camps on foot. Credit: Jamie Roberton/ITV News

Ferries then take the refugees to Athens, where they are registered.

They are then transported to the border with Macedonia where they are allowed to leave the country, with most choosing to head to Northern European countries like Germany and Sweden.

  • The volunteers

Volunteers from countries such as Israel, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada were on hand, along with some local residents, throughout the overwhelmingly busy day.

Many rushed to their hire cars or sprinted to get to different parts of the coastline in time to help an incoming dinghy.

Medical personnel were also available, helping to treat a young girl who had apparently broken her foot during the journey.

"I couldn't bring myself to get p***** in Gran Canaria while all this is going on," said Swedish volunteer Anders about his reasons for travelling to Lesbos.

He arrived with his girlfriend on Saturday to assist their friends, who have already helped bring more than 2,400 boxes of clothes and food.

Another Canadian volunteer, who worked for Samaritan's Purse, said: "It's all pretty real isn't it?"

He will stay for three weeks to "make the process" easier for the refugees.

ITV News met German national Ute as she comforted a crying baby whose mother was too exhausted to hold or even feed her.

A baby cries in the arms of German volunteer Ute while her mother recovers from exhaustion. Credit: ITV News

She and her husband work at a help station along the route to the UNHCR centre.

"I look after the babies, I change their nappies while my husband prepares sandwiches and drives the shuttle bus from the shore to the help centre," she said.

Does she think Europe has done enough to solve this crisis?

"All the countries haven't done enough," Ute said. "For me the biggest problem is the Greeks don't help. The government of Molyvos. They threw the refugees out of the village; they don't give water, food or shelter.

"Before the NGOs arrived, they had to go by feet to Mytilene - that's 75km (47 miles) in 35 degrees without water. They think tourists don't want to see but they do; they want to help."

ITV News also met a team of Dutch volunteers, who had arrived laden with medical supplies, food and clothes.

Volunteers have brought medical and food supplies to aid those arriving on the island. Credit: Jamie Roberton/ITV News
Boxes full of clothes have also been stored for the arrival of thousands of refugees. Credit: Jamie Roberton/ITV News
  • The orange coastline of Lesbos

Volunteers, lifeguards and journalists had to wade through thousands of discarded life jackets, children's armbands and leftover food on the shoreline to reach the next arrival.

Cars had to weave through not only hundreds of migrants on the roads but also more safety vests, abandoned clothes and pieces of the boats - including engines.

Refugees joined traffic on the dusty roads of the Greek island as they journeyed to the camps. Credit: ITV News
Local dustmen having to pick up dozens of discarded dinghys. Credit: Jamie Roberton/ITV News
  • What next?
One of 30 boats witnessed by ITV News arriving on the popular holiday island of Lesbos. Credit: Jamie Roberton/ITV News

Refugees fleeing war in Syria and violence in Afghanistan will not let deteriorating weather deter from making Lesbos their first destination on the road to Europe.

Overseas volunteers who have spent their summer breaks helping will have to go home. Who then takes their place? This small island of 95,000 is simply overwhelmed - you just have to look at the state of the litter-strewn roads and beaches as evidence.

This is not a seasonal crisis - Europe must brace itself for a potentially rougher winter.

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