Patras to Brindisi – Refugee Escape Route


We crossed the Mediterranean/Adriatic from Greece to Italy on the Grimaldi Ferry Line saving us about 5 days of travel and 1500 km. With over 50 days of our 90 in Europe done, this crossing seems a turning point on our trip, a signal that the end of Europe is coming. 

Jeff practicing with the emergency crew on the ferry!

To get on a ferry in Patras, Greece you enter the port. This is a huge area with ample parking for the many semi-trucks and docked trailers that are to be shipped.

Before waiting in line with the trucks and trailers, we were first sent to get tickets and show our passports. As we drove past a parking lot full of big trucks, I noticed young men dodging, ducking under the trucks and running across the parking lot towards the edge of the port fence. There seemed to be about 6-7 of these guys and they were carrying boards. I thought nothing of it other than they must have been the truck drivers or driver’s helpers preparing to load.

After we checked in we were told to wait in a parking lot where I had seen the trucks. While we were waiting, Jeff and Max played cribbage and I sat in the front seat of the motorhome reading and occasionally glancing out the front dash window. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small group of men running  – first running back and forth around a trailer next to us, then in front of our camper across the lot again towards the port wall and fence. These were the same young men I had seen earlier but now their movements and the weird fact that two of them were carrying boards – like 1×8 shelf boards approximately 5 feet long – made me realize something was going on. Not able to process what it was they were doing, I commented, “It looks like they are playing hide and seek! What are they doing?”

The longer I watched them, I realized that their behavior was odd. They were all skinny and looked to be in their teens or early twenties. When I initially saw them back on our way to immigration and ticketing, I thought they worked on the trucks as their faces, hands and arms were grimy. They reminded me of the skinny young men who worked in the auto shops in Honduras – undernourished mechanics. They all wore black. One guy continuously darted back and forth in front of our camper wearing two pair of jeans – a black pair on top kept sliding down revealing a lighter pair of jeans underneath. Why the two layers, I wondered. And had he lost so much weight that the pants once fit?

Finally, it dawned on me that they were trying to secure passage on the ferry – stowaways – were they Syrians, Albanians or some other young refugee? The boards were used to make a platform under the truck trailer where the young men could ride undetected.

But, what made them run – dashing back and forth, I wondered. Then I saw a patrol officer on a scooter and some of the truck drivers shooing the boys away. Again there was a flurry across the parking lot and I watched seven young men run to the port gate and scramble up over the top. Surprising to me, they didn’t leave. Instead, they stayed behind the fence watching for their moment. It became obvious that this was a group of young men determined to get aboard the ferry and make their way to Italy and beyond. Their tenacity made me realize that they knew the scooter “authorities” could do nothing besides momentarily shooing them away. I suspect the boys got word, or had seen, that riding the ferry works.

A few moments later, one of the boys jumped the fence, snuck across the grassy field between the port barrier wall and the parking lot, but was spotted by the security guard on patrol and ran back again, to climb up over the fence and out of the port area. A little while later, he found another opportunity when the security guard was between trucks. Watching the whole thing, he leapt the fence and quickly ran to the truck next to us where he jumped up into the cavity between the truck and trailer and somehow hid himself. The scooter patrol came back and forth past that truck many times, often looking at me through the camper window. I wondered if he would question me, but he just drove back and forth. I never saw the boy come down, and when we passed the truck to finally board the ferry, I looked between the trailer and cab, but saw nothing. I was happy to see that he had somehow hid himself and would make it to a better place – someday.

After seeing the refugees, we were not surprised that security through the final gate to the ferry was tight. Here guards came aboard the motorhome to check the bathroom and top bunk. They also requested that Jeff open every lower compartment in the van. That lower compartment could easily hold 10 people, but we had no stowaways. We all decided, we would have liked to have helped the boys…maybe we did and don’t even know it.

The next morning when we docked in Brindisi, Italy, Jeff was on deck watching the ferry prepare to unload and reported seeing lots of young men in black scurrying and getting shooed away by the workers on the ferry and dock.

When we left Greece, the rest of the boys were still waiting for their opportunity. The presence of a motor scooter security guard was nothing but a tiny annoyance to them. It seems to me that with the determination I saw, they will make it on one of these ferries and get to mainland EU. What they do from there, I would love to know.



2 thoughts on “Patras to Brindisi – Refugee Escape Route

  1. I read the news about the refugee crisis. Hearing your first hand account of what you saw and how you processed their activities (the loose clothes) is so much more real. I can only hope the presence of your family helped to secure passage for these people. Seems that with traveling it is even more clear that there is a lot of pain we inflict on other humans and, I with resignation suppose, sometimes the best we can do is bear witness and report to others. Thanks.

    On a happier note – I hope I can see you and play cribbage!


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