Inside the abandoned factory of ΑΒΕΞ — AVEX, a wood company operating in Patras.

Waiting in Patras. Next stop: Italy

We visited an old wood factory that lies next to the city’s port and functions as a gate for refugees to continue their travel to Italy.

Photos: A. Christofilopoulos Additional Reporting: Eliza Gkritsi

48 hours after I have travelled to Patras over the weekend, Greek police entered an abandoned factory in the port city in western Greece. In a unannounced operation, they started forcibly removing 70 refugees and migrants of the 170 who lived there. They were the ones without proper documentation.

I visited the abandoned wood factory while no one suspected such eviction would take place.

Under the scorching heat, the residents moved their tents to the roof so they can avoid the temperatures that reach over 45 degrees Celsius in the industrial hangar.Tired and exhausted, they continued their effort, unaware of what was to come.

There has been no official statement as to their fate. It is expected that they will be taken to the police station for identity verification. We talked to Giannis Demogiannis, a resident of Patras who is part of a solidarity movement providing food to the factory residents.

“I was there at 1pm, and most of them were back,” he told us.

“There are other buildings in the area with the same arrangement. The rumours surrounding this one, however, made it unique. I have heard from four different municipality officials that it is a smuggler and criminal den. My experience of the place could not be further than that description. This was a targeted attack.”

The factory lies opposite the port, where boats leave to Italy. It is an old route of illegal migration, which has been in use for decades, before the current migrant crisis.

All that separates them and their dream of leaving Greece is a road and a fence. Every day, they try to jump the fence that guards the port, hoping to get in a truck that will depart to Italy.

This is totally illegal. But the factory residents have either already applied for asylum in Greece, or been accepted. The police cannot detain them without catching them in the act.

It is not a camp or a squat. It is not officially recognised by the state, neither served by NGOs. The conditions are harsher even than Elliniko, and daily life revolves around jumping the fence. As soon as they see a boat arriving, they attempt the crossing.

“The first time I distributed food there, I was shocked. It was like another planet. There is no infrastructure, no chemical toilets, no one providing them food. They live with the garbage. The community is commiting a crime and hiding it under the carpet,” Giannis described.

This why the demographic makeup of the residents is almost homogeneous. The overwhelming majority of them are Afghan, and all of them are men. Breaking into a port is rendered difficult if you have children. Many have already seen their asylum applications accepted in Greece, but they don’t want to stay there.

The eviction is part of a wider crackdown whereby unofficial facilities hosting refugees are shut down.

Here’s what I saw in the factory’s complex:

The refugees trying to enter the port of Patras in order to board a truck that will take them to Italy.
Aesh, 15, an unaccompanied minor.
Rahim, sitting in the traditional way of his home town of Kandahar, Afghanistan.

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