Refugees in Patras a fence and ferry away from a better life in Europe

World Today

Hundreds of refugees and migrants are huddled in abandoned factories in the Greek port city of Patras, hoping to hitch rides on ferries that will take them deeper into Europe. Among them are dozens of unaccompanied boys, some as young as 12.

CGTN’s Filio Kontrafouri reports.

At the age of 15, Ajmal has his mind set on one thing: jumping over the port fence in front of him, so he can hide on a truck that will take him out of Greece and on to northern Europe.

“If we don’t succeed crossing from here, we don’t know what else to do, because the cheapest and easiest way is to cross from here,” the Afghan refugee said. “We don’t have enough money to choose another way, and for as long as we have the courage, we will keep trying.”

Along with hundreds of men with the same goal, Ajmal lives in an abandoned factory in the port city of Patras. They are mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and many are without any papers legalizing their stay in Greece. According to an organization that works with unaccompanied refugee children, currently living among them are about 80 boys under the age of 17.

“These boys feel they are invincible,” according to social worker Georgia Tzanakou. “They feel they are very close to their final destination. The only thing separating them from their dream is a sea, so they will endure everything.”

Tzanakou says when she asks them what is the worst thing that can happen to them, they say dying. But they’d rather die trying to reach their destination, instead of seeing themselves as cowards taken care of by others while their families are dying.

That’s why convincing these boys to leave the factories remains the biggest challenge for social workers. Every day, along with dozens of young men, they wait for hours for the right time; until the trucks arrive and the game begins. They storm the port fence and try to hide in a truck before it boards a ferry to Italy.

Usually they are pushed back by the coast guard, but only until the next attempt, which could be minutes away.

The so-called “game” is nothing new and has been happening for years. What has changed since Europe’s borders closed in 2016, however, is that checks inside the port have intensified. This has led to more arrests of those trying to illegally board ferries.

While arrests have tripled, even that has not been deterring these men and boys from enduring the hardships of living here, some for months.

Food Kind is one of just a couple organizations providing them with some basics. They bring them freshly cooked food, twice a day.

“I don’t say see you tomorrow, I say I hope I don’t see you tomorrow,” volunteer Melanie Anderson said. “Because then I know that they moved to somewhere that they’re heading towards, that they would like to be.”

Just ahead of Christmas, a rare glimmer of joy found its way here. Patras’ world-famous plucked strings orchestra came to play for these young men, with locals offering them traditional Christmas sweets and tea.

Ajmal was there too, taking a short break before again trying to reach a better life in Europe.

CGTN’s Susan Roberts talks with U.S. State Dept. consultant John Sitilides about the waves of refugees who fled to other countries in search of safety or work in 2017, and whether that’s likely to change in 2018.