Aid groups create huge peace sign of life jackets on Greek isle

Athens (AFP) - Rights groups briefly transformed a mountain of discarded life jackets used by refugees who crossed the Aegean Sea into a huge peace sign on the hills of the Greek island of Lesbos.

The giant symbol, which was made out of around 3,000 flourescent orange life jackets, was created on a hillside overlooking the 10-kilometre (six mile) stretch of water between the island's northern shores and the Turkish coastline, the Greenpeace website said.

It was formed on New Year's Day by around 100 volunteers from Greenpeace, Doctors Without Borders, Sea-Watch and the Dutch Refugee Boat Foundation as well as the local community group, Starfish.

The groups created the peace sign "on New Year's Day to bring in 2016 with a message of hope," with Greenpeace's Florian Schulz telling AFP it took three-to-four hours to create the giant symbol, which measured 10 metres from side-to-side.

But it was later removed as the group did not have permission to leave it there.

"We had no permission for the sign to stay in the hills so we dismantled it and cleaned up the dump," Schulz told AFP.

UN figures show that more than half a million people have crossed Aegean Sea to Lesbos alone over the past year, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the 850,000 who reached Greece by boat in 2015.

The vast majority were refugees fleeing war and violence in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, with the life jackets they used left at a dump near the village of Molyvos, Greenpeace said.

- 'A silent reminder' -

"The dump site stands as a statue, a silent reminder of the risks and that so many more still hold out hope of a safe crossing. It also includes the life jackets of those who never made it, of those who lost their lives at sea and can never return home or continue their journey north," it said.

More than one million migrants and refugees have entered Europe this year, four out of five of whom reached the continent via the Greek islands. Although the arrivals has declined since the autumn, around 60,000 arrived on Lesbos in December, UN figures show.

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Friday said he was planning to create a memorial on Lesbos to the plight of refugees, many of whom have died trying to reach Europe.

"A lot of people have lost their lives under the waves... we need a memorial," he told AFP after a news conference on the project.

"I already set up a studio in Lesbos. Next year we are going to be involved with different projects," he added.