The jackets were worn by refugees who made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean from Turkey to the Greek island of Chios.
Organizers said that about a quarter of the jackets on display were child-size. Some of the jackets were adorned with kids’ stickers, like this one with a Bugs Bunny sticker.
The International Rescue Committee, which is run by David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary, was one of the humanitarian charities that set up the installation in the early hours of Monday morning.
“These don’t even represent the number of those who have died, which is well over 6,000 since the crisis began,” said Sanj Srikanthan, the group’s head of policy, as he gazed out over the sea of tatty life jackets.
The jackets were taken from a “graveyard of tens of thousands” in Greece, he said. About 650 of them were worn by children.
He said that the organizers behind the installation were trying to send a message to the world leaders in New York to consider “durable solutions" to the crisis, ranging from a more structured approach to how refugees are settled to creating jobs and livelihoods for refugees who are living in camps.
By early afternoon, crowds were gathering around Parliament Square, though few people were wandering among the life jackets that were laid out on the grass.
“What makes this so intense, is that through the media you only see numbers,” said Scott Omlo, a 20-year-old arts student who had come to check out the exhibition after seeing photos of it posted on social media. “But this visualization makes it more intense.”