'I want my children to have a better life'

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Photographer Tara Todras-Whitehill has covered global crises for the Associated Press, Vanity Fair and other publications. But a recent trip to the island of Lesbos, Greece, to document the experiences of refugees for the International Rescue Committee was unlike any assignment she's ever had.  "I have never before witnessed such a massive migration of people," she says.

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Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many fleeing conflict in Syria, have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, with an average of 3,300 people per day arriving in Lesbos this month. "It’s a humbling experience to watch refugees with next to nothing tumble off boats, trying to make better lives for themselves and their children," Todras-Whitehill says. "As they arrive, they hug their families, cry with joy and sadness, and then pick up what little they managed to bring with them to begin a very long journey into Europe."

Her images show that despite surviving a harrowing overseas trip, and although many have experienced the trauma of war,  the determined men, women and children who arrive daily on Lesbos' shores keep moving forward. They do their laundry, charge their phones, and buy ferry tickets for the next stop on the journey.

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Refugees jump from a raft after arriving from Turkey, in Molyvos, northern Lesbos. Many boats come overcrowded with refugees, with more people than the rafts should handle.

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Jihan, left, from Aleppo, Syria, holds one-year-old Olea, after arriving on a boat from Turkey.

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Syrian refugees rest on the beach. Once refugees get processed and get papers after their arrival, they can exchange money and buy ferry tickets to get to Athens.

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Clothes are hung to dry at the Moria refugee camp in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos.

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At sunrise in the Moria refugee camp, Nadia, 7, center, a refugee from Kobani, Syria, stays warm with her mother Fayrouz, youngest sister Jemma, 2, left, and her older sister Selma, 9, right. "It's been more than 10 days since we left Syria," Fayrouz says. "I have six babies under 18 years old. They suffered a lot on the journey here, and we want to continue to Germany. I want my children to have a better life."

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Afghan refugees stand around a fire at the Moria refugee camp.

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Khadija, a Syrian refugee from Homs, sleeps with an emergency blanket at the Skala beach makeshift camp in Molyvos in northern Lesbos. Many refugees who arrive during the night from Turkey stay at beach camps like this and then move in the morning to a processing center.

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Syrian refugees try to stay warm at the Moria refugee camp.

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Jenna, 4, a refugee from Aleppo, Syria, sits in a tent at the Skala beach camp with her family after arriving at night by boat.

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The Moria refugee camp provides a place for people to charge their phones.

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Refugees buy ferry tickets to Athens at the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos.

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People line up at the port in Mytilene to board the ferry to Athens and continue their journey into Europe.

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Mohammed Alooh, 27, waiting for the ferry with his sister Salama. Mohammed was a photojournalist in Syria before he was injured by shrapnel. He arrived in Greece on his way to Germany, hoping to get better treatment for his injuries.

Tara Todras-Whitehill is a documentary photographer with Vignette Interactive. She was a staff photographer for the Associated Press and has worked for clients such as Vanity Fair, New York Times Travel, and Glamour among others.

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