PATRAS, Greece — For hundreds of migrants hoping to build a new life, access to Europe's richest countries lies on the other side of a metal fence surrounding the western Greek port of Patras.
One group of Afghan men scaled this barrier Thursday using one of the most common plans for achieving European dreams: clinging to the undercarriages of freight trucks waiting to board Italy-bound ferries. They burrow between the wheels and cling to the piping on the underside. Some make it; others scatter at the sight of a policeman patrolling on a motorbike.
According to government estimates, some 37,500 immigrants and asylum seekers have reached Greece illegally so far this year. The vast majority don't want to stay in the country, where a severe five-year financial crisis has left unemployment at about 26 percent.
An abandoned textile factory near the port has become the temporary home for dozens of migrants who are using Greece as their gateway to Europe.
Asan, a 21-year-old from Afghanistan, has been in Greece for six months and was preparing to make his first attempt to reach Italy. "My future is to go to Italy and then to Germany," he said.
Kanifa, a migrant from Eritrea, has been in Greece for five years and has tried to leave as many times — with no luck. He has been arrested on ferries, as well as in Italy, and sent back to Patras. "My life is not changing," he said.
Some migrants are even unluckier, suffering injuries while trying to escape. Abdallah Abdalrahman, a 35-year-old Sudanese man, broke his legs five months ago when a truck ran over him as he attempted to hide in the undercarriage. He hasn't been able to walk since.
Greece and Italy are the main points of entry into the European Union for refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa hoping to reach other European Union countries.
Tens of thousands cross from the nearby Turkish coast to Greek islands each year. From there they make their way either to Patras, in an effort to sneak onto Italy-bound ferries, or to Greece's northern borders with Albania and Macedonia, for an arduous overland trek on foot.