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Escaping a Greek tragedy

15 July 20151 comment

Escaping a Greek tragedy2A second wave of Greek migrants fleeing economic austerity at home is arriving in Melbourne bringing skills and cultural renewal and bolstering the city’s status as the world’s third – largest Greek speaking city.

About 8000 people have arrived in Victoria from Greece since 2010, according to a recent report by the Australian Greek Welfare Society (AGWS).

The bulk of these people – around 60 per cent – are Greek Australian expatriates and their families, including many who left as children or are Australian citizens by descent.

Unlike the post war migrants from Greece who were largely poorly educated with no English, the new wave is typically made up of educated, middle class urbanites with young families.

Recent arrival Nikos Massouri and his wife Mary have come to Australia looking for a future.

Nikos was born in Melbourne after his parents migrated here in the 1960s. They returned home after a decade living in Melbourne’s west.

“In Athens there were no jobs and no opportunities. Things are tough for everybody,” said Nikos, a qualified graphic designer.

“I was born here so I have Australian citizenship. I just thought we would come to Australia and try to do something – to start a new life, get a job,” he said.

Nikos and his wife, a social worker, are taking English language lessons as they look for work.

“We are lucky we have family here so it’s not so difficult for us,” he said.

Nikos said that people in Australia did not fully understand the impact of the financial crisis in Greece.

“Sure, you hear about the crisis her but you don’t see what effect it has. Society is really breaking down,” he said.

“Health care is not what it should be. There is no money to repair the roads.

“There are many people homeless – and in Greece that’s a big thing because people and families are used to looking after each other,” he said.

Nikos said coming to Australia offered him the chance to build a career and maybe start a family.

“In Greece I could not find any kind of work let alone work on career in design,” he said.

“Here is Australia maybe I can progress and get somewhere,” Nikos said.

Most of the new arrivals stay with family or friends until their find their feet but welfare services have come under strain, according to AGWS.

“At a time when we’re dealing with people who are now in the really frail part of their old age, we’ve been hit with having to respond to the complex needs of the newly arrived,” said AGWS CEO Voula Messimeri.

Since the new exodus began in 2009, many new arrivals have been put in touch with Greek Community of Melbourne honorary general secretary Costas Markos.

He says many people spent their last savings to get here only to find that things were more difficult than they had been led to believe.

“People encountered obstacles like a high cost of living, rigid bureaucracy, language barriers and no legal access to work or healthcare,” he said.

Mr Markos says many arrivals have made a success of things but others have returned home disillusioned.

How did the Greek crisis come about?

Greece became the focus of Europe’s debt crisis after the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008.

With global financial markets plummeting, Greece announced in October 2009 that it had been understating its deficit figures for years, raising alarms about the soundness of Greece’s finance position.

As a consequence, Greece was shut out from borrowing in the financial markets sending it sliding towards bankruptcy.

To avoid financial catastrophe and the possible break-up of the euro-zone itself, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission issued the first of two international bailouts for Greece, which eventually totalled more than 240 billion euros, or about $A355 billion.

The bailout loans imposed harsh austerity terms, requiring government budget cuts and tax increases. The lenders also required Greece to overhaul its economy by streamlining the government, ending tax evasion and making Greece an easier place to do business.

But the bailout cash has largely gone to paying off Greece’s international debt and a ‘Catch 22’ situation has emerged where there is no money for investment to stimulate the economy and produce a recovery which would allow Greece to pays its debts. Many economists, and many Greeks, blame the austerity measures for much of the country’s continuing problems.

But, currently, the economy has shrunk by 25 per cent in five years, and unemployment is above 25 per cent.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Senior Journalist