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At Europe's doorway, a Greek city grapples with growing illegal immigrant problem

Afghan immigrants often make their way to Patras, where they become entangled in EU asylum laws.

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For thousands of immigrants, the road into Europe passes through a foul-smelling squatters' camp that has sprouted in the heart of this busy port city.

The shantytown is laid out in an orderly grid of plastic-wrapped shacks thrown together from old boards and recovered detritus from construction sites. Chickens scrabble in the dirt, satellite dishes poke from tin roofs, and pilfered water feeds an open-air communal shower.

As many as 2,000 Afghan men and boys live in the camp at any one time, part of a wave of migrants who flock to Patras in hopes of stowing away on one of the trucks loaded onto Italy-bound ships and ferries.

Day and night, they converge on the port, a 10-minute walk from the shantytown. Some sprint after the trucks as they pass through the gates, trying to latch onto the doors or crawl into the wheel wells. Others wait for smugglers to spirit them onboard to hide among the crates, in cold-storage containers, or in stuffy hidden compartments.

Until recently, Greek authorities have largely ignored the camp, never sending police into its trash-clogged alleyways. But last week, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the sanitary and security situation there had become untenable. He vowed to raze the camp and lock migrants in an old military barracks outside the city before the summer tourist season begins.

Even if that happens, Patras is likely to remain a magnet for the influx of illegal migrants that Greece does not want and cannot manage, according to government officials, human rights groups, and refugee advocates. The city is the most dramatic example of the bottlenecks created by the European Union's (EU) attempt to enforce common immigration controls.

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