March 13, 2018 02:03:57by

Pictures show how migrants are sneaking onto lorries in Greece

Pictures show how migrants are sneaking onto lorries in Greece

X-ray images released by Greek authorities show desperate migrants hiding in fuel tanks and among fruit deliveries on lorries ready to board the ferry from the port of Patras to Italy.

Other photos taken in Patras show the constant battle of the Greek port police to uphold the law and catch the stowaways before the trucks and lorries drive onto the ferries.

But they also show the squalid conditions the migrants, mostly young men from Pakistan and Afghanistan, live in as they wait for their literal ship to come in. 

Images from an X-ray of a truck show hideouts not visible to the naked eye: two men were discovered lying on their backs in a fuel tank. Another crouched beneath watermelons.

Anger is simmering among truck drivers, who sometimes chase migrants away with sticks, fearing arrest if a stowaway is found among their freight.

One driver, who gave his name as Harry, climbed into his truck to find three migrants hiding among stacks of aluminum last Thursday night.

'It's awful. It doesn't get more awful than this and no one takes responsibility,' he said. 

When the migrants are caught by police, they simply return to the other side of the fence surrounding the port, and prepare to try again - determined to reach Italy, and from there, make their way to northern Europe more appealing since the closure in 2016 of the overland Balkan route .

A few hundred migrants are squatting in abandoned factories facing the port and shower in water that run yellow from rusty pipes.

At night, with fewer officers on patrol, a Reuters team witnessed groups breaking into locks to get into trucks or crawling under tarpaulins.

'Get down! Get down from there!' an officer with the coast guard's special forces squad yelled at a man peering at him from the undercarriage of a truck lined up for embarkation control, who was then handcuffed and escorted away.  

Authorities arrested 760 people hiding in trucks or carrying forged travel documents at Patras in January and February alone.

This is nearly a third of the total of 2,627 arrests in 2017, according to official data. 

In 2016, 1,040 people were arrested.

Those arrested are held at most overnight before they are released, and many try their luck again the following day. 

The route from Patras, one of two ports linking Greece to Italy, is not new but when Europe's refugee crisis began in 2015 and nearly a million people landed in Greece on boats, taking the overland road to countries like Germany was a safer option. 

When those borders closed in March 2016 and a European Union deal with Turkey stranded over 50,000 refugees and migrants in Greece, Patras started buzzing again, said Dimitris Kyriakoulopoulos, a coast guard captain overlooking the port.

'What we're dealing with here is a gradual increase in the number of these people,' he said. 

No one can say how many migrants make it across. Italian authorities returned 147 people to Greece last year, up from 112 in 2016 and 44 in January and February, according to Greek data.

Italy's Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Across the port in the squat, migrants spoke of their friends who made it to Italy and said they, too, would keep at it despite the risks.

'Everything is dangerous,' said Arshad Wardak, 24, from Afghanistan. 'You have to go through all the suffering to get into a better place. So this is why everybody is trying.'