September 12, 2019 / 1:51 PM / 6 days ago

Migrant stowaways ride Greek freight trains seeking escape to north

THESSALONIKI, Greece (Reuters) - The unassuming freight train rumbles across the countryside in northern Greece, but a moving shadow cast on the ground reveals human figures hiding between its wagons.

Migrants walk next to a freight train after reaching the Greek-North Macedonian border, hoping to cross without documents, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis

    Migrant stowaways crouch on the couplers. The monotonous clickety-clack of the wheels speeding over the iron tracks makes them drowsy, or it could be the heat and wind in their faces.

    Most in this group are from Afghanistan. They are trying to cross the border into North Macedonia, and eventually reach Germany or France.

They jump off just before the frontier and try their luck through the forest on foot to reach the other side. Some remain tucked away inside the wagons in the hope of passing undetected by border guards.

In 2015, at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, nearly a million refugees and migrants poured over Greece’s northern boundaries, traveling through the Balkans to wealthier European countries. That route shut in 2016, stranding thousands in Greece and forcing some to find other means of exit such as smuggling themselves onto trains.

Greece’s new government has said it will tighten its borders and speed up deportations of asylum-seekers who do not qualify.

   Rahman, an Afghan stowaway on the train who left a wife and four children in Kabul, has been in Greece for nine months since arriving from Turkey. He spent time in camps but with no papers, work, or proper accommodation, he says it is time to move on, and joined this group in the trains.

“Greece is good but Greece (didn’t) give me a home, no food. I want to go to another country,” he said.

    Anbia Noor Ali, 26, also from Afghanistan, has been in Greece for only a month after crossing on foot from Turkey. Like Rahman, he wants to go to Germany or France.

“In Afghanistan (there is) war, and problems,” he said.

Greece has seen a rise in arrivals of migrants and refugees from Turkey over the summer. In August alone, more than 9,000 arrived by sea and land, the highest monthly number in three years, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

Refugee agencies say the spike comes at a time when overcrowded camps are buckling under pressure. Charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says about 24,000 migrants and refugees are trapped on Greek islands camps in “horrendous” conditions.

    At a station near the northern city of Thessaloniki, migrants looking for a way out have made a home in old abandoned wagons as they wait for freight trains to pass.

The wind blows through the broken windows, their decayed corridors are ghostly quiet, except for the new occupants. The migrants bed down in the berths in the sleeping cars where passengers once slept.

Writing by Deborah Kyvrikosaios; Editing by Karolina Tagaris and Mark Heinrich

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