Mi­grants ride the rails of north­ern Greece in hope of a bet­ter fu­ture

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY KAROLINA TAGARIS

It was Mo­hamed Khaleuf’s third at­tempt to cross the Greek bor­der into the For­mer Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM) hid­ing in a freight train and he had no plans to give up try­ing.

“I promised my­self I would try five times. If I’m not suc­cess­ful, I will try to cross from some­where else,” said Khaleuf, a mi­grant from Morocco in his early 20s.

Khaleuf is among dozens of mi­grants, mostly young Moroc­cans, Tu­nisians and Al­ge­ri­ans who ar­rived in Greece in the last year and found shel­ter in old rust­ing car­riages around a sta­tion in the out­skirts of Greece’s north­ern city of Thes­sa­loniki. From there, they mon­i­tor freight trains head­ing to cen­tral Europe. When­ever trains stop in the sta­tion, the mi­grants try to sneak into their com­part­ments or jump in be­tween wag­ons. If they’re lucky, they make it across un­no­ticed.

Some said they plan to get off be­fore the bor­der and con­tinue on foot. Of­ten, they are ar­rested by guards in FYROM and sent back to Greece. No one can say how many have made it. A Greek gov­ern­ment spokesman was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

More than a mil­lion refugees and mi­grants ar­rived in Europe in 2015, land­ing in Greece from Turkey and then stream­ing through the Balkans, head­ing north to Ger­many or Aus­tria.

But that route shut in March last year fol­low­ing an agree­ment be­tween the EU and Turkey, strand­ing about 60,000 peo­ple in makeshift and for­mal camps across Greece.

In the aban­doned trains where Khaleuf and oth­ers live, con­di­tions are grim, with­out elec­tric­ity or run­ning wa­ter. For food, they queue up at a nearby camp in a for­mer toi­let pa­per fac­tory. Peo­ple come and go, leav­ing piles of garbage be­hind. Some car­riages burned down in ac­ci­dents when mi­grants tried to warm up in freez­ing win­ter tem­per­a­tures.

“Here we live like an­i­mals,” said Habib, a 22-year-old Al­ge­rian who crossed from Turkey to the is­land of Rhodes and then hid un­der a truck on a ferry to Athens.

To­gether with a friend, he had made an at­tempt to leave Greece days ear­lier, leap­ing onto a train with his blue ruck­sack. With­out doc­u­ments, the pair were ar­rested in FYROM and sent back.

De­spite the dire con­di­tions, many mi­grants choose the car­riages over the camps as they can keep an eye on pass­ing trains, they said.

Mustafa, a 32-year-old Al­ge­rian who ar­rived in Greece last Oc­to­ber and in Thes­sa­loniki in March, hoped to get out of there soon. “To­mor­row I hope to be in Mace­do­nia!” he said.

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