LESBOS, Greece — Sub-zero temperatures and ice-cold waters haven't stopped tens of thousands of migrants from landing on the shores of this tiny Greek island this winter — though many have died trying.
The locals of Lesbos have been flung into the roles of rescuers and receivers. Their courage, compassion and self-sacrifice has inspired a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Here are some of their stories.
The last year has been surreal for Philippa Kempson, an Englishwoman who’s lived on Lesbos for 16 years with her husband Eric.
“I’ve seen too many faces, too many boats lost, too many people lost,” she said. “People just walking their dog on the beach — you don’t expect to find a body of an 18-month-old child on the beach in the morning on a dog walk.”
Angeliki Chousou is grateful for the Nobel nomination.
“We deserve it! We give them clothes, food, blankets, clothes from our own homes, toys for the babies. And we give them love — lots of love,” she said.
The islanders know only too well what the migrants are going through, she said. Many are descended from people who themselves were driven from their homes in what is now Turkey during WWI and its aftermath, Chousou said.
“We understand what they are suffering because many of our grandparents were refugees too,” she said.
Talk of a Nobel prize means little to Efi Latsoudi though, who said she is angry, frustrated and often overwhelmed.
“I don’t want the Nobel Prize if people are dying this way, if we find the bodies of children every day, of women, of young men, of anyone,” the 48-year-old said. “It would be an empty, meaningless thing to win a prize as long as people are suffering and dying like this.”
She too said Europe should be doing so much more to help.
“There is no reason why people should die in this sea,” she said. “It’s not just a Greek problem, it’s an international problem. We know that these people will die and we let them die."
A Nobel nomination was a great honor, but it is not a priority, according to mayor Spyros Galinos.
“The first priority is that the international community should intervene and stop the crime that’s being committed by the Turkish smugglers,” said Galinos, who is mayor of the city Mytilene. “Right now, lives are being lost in the Aegean and there’s no reason that should be allowed to happen.”
More than 550,000 people came through his island in 2015, he said — and more will wash up on the island’s shores this year.
“As long as Europe does nothing to stop this, more and more lives are going to be lost,” Galinos said. “We can’t handle... lives being lost a few meters off our shores, with Europe doing nothing to help us.”
Bill Neely is NBC News' chief global correspondent. He joined NBC News from Britain’s ITV News in January 2014. His reports from across the globe have earned many awards, including an unprecedented three consecutive BAFTAs, the British equivalent of the Oscars, for his work in China, Haiti, and the U.K.