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GREECE: Lost Generation Begins to Leave

Apostolis Fotiadis

ATHENS, Oct 2 2011 (IPS) - Every working day a long queue of people forms outside the State Translation Service in Thission in downtown Athens from early in the morning. Most are youngsters processing documents they need to leave Greece for study or work. Many move on to queue later outside embassies for visas.

These are signs on the street of the emigration wave sweeping Greece. As Greece sinks deeper into economic crisis, thousands are looking for a way out of the country.

Unemployment has skyrocketed to an official 16 percent this month. Minister of Finance Evaggelos Venizelos has admitted publicly that the economy is retracting faster than feared, at a rate of 5.2 percent, and that this trend will continue into next year.

A report published by the Labour Research Institute, belonging to the General Labour Union (GSEE) of private sector workers has predicted rapid deterioration. Officially more than 790,000 are currently out of work. The real numbers are higher because many are not counted due to logistical reasons.

The young coming into the labour market are hit hardest, with unemployment of those between 15 and 29 years rising above 40 percent. This feeds the emigration wave.

Some of the well-off are leaving as well. Andreas Kallisteris dropped a lucrative consultant’s job at the ministry of employment to follow his wife and son to Berlin. His wife, a self-employed translator, was also doing well, but decided to go.

“We are thinking not to ever return,” Kallisteris, a highly skilled professional involved in policy making for years told IPS. “I can’t influence the future and I cannot affect the choices made by a failed administration and political system. There are no prospects for this country.

“I am leaving behind me a place that is becoming a desert. With the departure of the best human resources, phenomena like the rise of extreme right and underdevelopment will become acute social issues soon. I will only return if and when this generation that runs the country pulls out.”

Old migration roots have been revitalised since last year. People from north-eastern Greece, the hardest hit by the crisis, are trying to return to Germany and Scandinavia where their predecessors flourished as ‘gastarbeiters’ (guest workers) in the fifties and sixties. Countries in Western Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia are the most popular destinations so far.

Up to July this year, 106,775 visits were recorded on the website of ‘Europass’, popular among those looking for jobs in the European Union. By August 55,073 documents were completed by people residing in Greece.

In Australia, after scams that abused the credit details of people promised migration and jobs, the Greek community in Melbourne, that has one of the biggest diaspora communities of ethnic Greeks, has mobilised to accommodate seekers.

Following their initiative the Australian embassy in Greece has announced a conference in Athens on Oct. 8 and 9 for potential migrants and employers. High attendance is expected.

Some are headed to destinations off the usual route. Dionysis Raitsos, who was a researcher at the Greek Centre for Maritime Research never thought he would leave to live in Saudi Arabia. “Mine was a good job in a dynamic environment but with serious lack of funding which mostly came from European programmes,” he told IPS.

“I stayed for four years on a basic wage without real prospects for improvement. The contracts of many colleagues were expiring and were not renewed, my turn would have followed.” Last year he moved to the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.

“It was a clever move. I got a scholarship and living support and I landed in an environment where things progress massively. Despite cultural differences and migration difficulties, getting out of Greece was a one-way solution.”

It is difficult to identify the extent of emigration and its impact on the country, but experts appear pessimistic. Savvas Robolis, head of research at the Research Institute of GSEE describes the young as “Greece’s lost generation”.

Greece is unable to absorb most of the 40,000 new workers entering the market every year, and they are now seeking a better future abroad. Not many talk of ever returning.

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