Spray-painted directions affixed to the back wall of a small church point towards Albania and a route rarely used by migrants and refugees who choose to try their luck in a country other than Greece.
But the relatively smooth passage of the generally difficult border between Greece and Albania provides the main route out of the country into the heart of Europe.
On a recent visit to the area, the Associated Press (AP) witnessed about 50 people camped out in an abandoned army substation and surrounding forest, a few hundred meters from the border, or about a half hour’s walk from the nearest Greek village of Ieropigi. , and 220 kilometers west of Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki.
They are waiting to attempt the crossing on their own or with the help of smugglers.
Husam Hderi, 30, reached Greece a month ago after sneaking across the land border from Turkey and was later assisted by people smugglers into Thessaloniki. He said that so far, he had paid smugglers 2,200 euros to reach Ieropigi, and was determined to continue north via Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina and finally Italy.
Michalis Trasias, who herds his sheep on the Greek side of the border, told the AP he sees groups of migrants heading to Albania every day.
In the early 1990s, tens of thousands of Albanian migrants struggled to make their way through the same forest near Ieropigi in search of work in Greece after the collapse of communism in Albania. Thirty years later, the flow of human traffic across the border has reversed, albeit on a much smaller scale. Now people from the Middle East and Africa are quietly crossing the same forest.
Migrants or refugees who don’t want to stay in Greece have several options, all of which are considered illegal: sneak on a ferry or buy a seat on a smuggler’s boat, head to Italy using fake papers to continue on a flight, or walk through Bulgaria, Macedonia. North or Albania.
But because Bulgaria was seen as too dangerous and North Macedonia was increasingly heavily guarded, a large number of migrants chose Albania. [lt/uh]