This is an excerpt from The Migrants Risking Everything to Escape Greece which was published on The New Arab in August 2020.

Dozens of lorries sit lifeless on the tarmac of Greece’s second largest port in the city of Patras. It’s a warm, bright afternoon and like any other day, the drivers wait to roll their vehicles onto the towering ship that will take them across the Mediterranean to southern Italy. Looking on from the roof of an abandoned factory nearby are six Afghan migrants. They are in Patras for one reason: to reach Italian soil by hiding aboard one of the lorries, an activity they call ‘The Game’.

Suddenly a group of drivers point and shout as they spot two of the men scaling the port’s double-walled barrier, dressed all in black with water bottles slung tightly around their torsos by a shoelace. The men sprint across the open compound and vanish into the maze of vehicles, desperately searching for a place to stow themselves; above an axle, in an engine bay, or among a trailer’s haul. A good hiding place will mean the difference between reaching Italy and ending up in a Patras jail cell.

Within minutes, a police car is speeding along the tarmac, siren blaring. The men bolt from their cover, launching themselves back over the barrier as swiftly and elegantly as gymnasts. They cross the six-lane highway that separates the port from the factory and disappear into the sprawling complex, where they will remain until their next attempt.

In late 2019, there were approximately 100 migrants in Patras, a port city 200km west of Athens. They were all young men and boys between the ages of 13 and 35, desperate to escape Greece’s immigration quagmire, with its dangerously overcrowded refugee camps and asylum interviews that take years to materialise. Their goal is to reach western Europe, where they hope to be able to build a new life.

In recent years the EU has increased pressure on Athens to ensure migrants remain in the country, making getting out of Greece incredibly difficult. Beyond boarding a ship from Patras’, there is only the treacherous route via the Balkan states, with their harsh winters and unchecked police brutality.

Patras’ “game” offers a simpler equation: a port, a handful of ships, and a few hundred lorries on which to hide. Yet, it is still gruelling: the men must endure months of squalor and intimidation living in squats controlled by people smugglers and risk severe injury evading police. For those resilient enough, success will eventually arrive, until which time a handful of volunteers, supported by the local government, provide essential support.

While the coronavirus pandemic and Greece’s resulting lockdown slowed the flow of migrants into and out of Patras, it has done little to change the underlying forces driving them. With Greece’s response to migrants becoming increasingly hostile and Europe’s attention focused on the biggest economic shock in living memory, the future for those playing Patras’ grim game seems more uncertain than ever.

Read the full article on The New Arab…