The skeletal ruins of the old Peiraiki-Patraiki textile factories dominate the landscape south of Patras, Greece’s third city.
The firm was the country’s biggest employer after the Greek state in the long boom that followed the Second World War. But by the early 1990s it had gone bust. Today the factories are home to desperate migrants trying to get on a boat going to Italy, and hopefully from there to France and Britain.
Some spend years there.
“We have no food, no shelter,” Sameh from Sudan told Socialist Worker. “There’s no work, no housing, and the police are very racist. Even if you stay ten or 20 years, they won’t give you papers.”
Migrants from some of the poorest countries in the world work together to find food from rubbish and to keep away from the police. They make homes among the debris—and everyone who passes through leaves a name or a drawing to remind others that they were there.
Their numbers have dwindled dramatically since last summer.
That’s when police began rounding up migrants and the fascist Golden Dawn party made an electoral breakthrough.
Now Golden Dawn graffiti is all over the walls near Patraiki, and they regularly “patrol” the area looking for migrants to attack.
“I’ve seen people beaten badly, put in hospital,” said Ali from Algeria. “There have even been people killed.”
Some migrants risk the axles underneath lorries—and the police dogs that are sent to root them out—to try and escape.
“One young Sudanese man was bitten on the backside,” said Ali. “But we keep trying. Everyone is waiting for the right boat or the right lorry.”
Ali stressed that not all Greeks are racist. He described an anti-racist artist who came to help brighten up the factory and locals who’d tried to intervene when the fascists attacked.
People come through Patras to escape violence, poverty and repressive regimes. Until recently the factory had been home to a family fleeing war-torn Afghanistan.
When politicians talk about “getting tough” on immigration, the violence inflicted on Ali and his friends is what they are talking about.