Young Greeks head overseas to escape crisis

Protestors in Athens.
Protestors in Athens. PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS • What does the future look like for young people in crisis-hit Greece, where years of hardship and sky-high unemployment were followed this week by bank closures?

The answer: self-imposed exile.

"I don't see a future in Greece," said Mr Dani Iordake with a sigh.

The 21-year-old who sports self-styled tattoos on his arms, was forced to drop out of university to help his mother pay the bills. "It's a beautiful country... (but) I couldn't imagine living here and struggling every day," he said.

With youth unemployment at nearly 50 per cent and a breakdown in negotiations with Greece's international creditors heralding further financial woes, many of Mr Iordake's contemporaries are packing their bags.

Over 200,000 Greeks have quit the country since the financial crisis began in 2010, according to Endeavour Greece, a local chapter of an entrepreneurial promotion group, driven away by a dearth of jobs, pitiful wages, endemic corruption and a lack of meritocracy.

Mr Christos Pennos, 32, left in 2013 because of a scarcity of opportunities in the scientific field, and managed to snap up a post as a university researcher in Norway.

At first, he had planned to spend two or three years in Norway, but now believes he'll stay longer - though he admits: "I really miss my friends and family, and most of all the Greek sun and Greek food."

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party were elected on the promise to help those worst hit by years of austerity, but instead have been forced to impose capital controls and close banks.

Friends Marilena, 22, and Josie, 33, catch up over a beer and falafel sandwich, which they eat on a bench in the street while they discuss their future. As a massage therapist, Josie cannot find full-time work and has been forced in the past to take babysitting and cleaning jobs to make ends meet.

"Before the crisis, I was paid €1,300 (S$1,900) net. Today, I don't get even half that, gross."

Her boyfriend, a Syrian refugee she met while volunteering for a migrant association, is currently in the Netherlands and she is thinking of going to live with him.

Marilena may also pack up and head to Germany, where her brother lives. He signed up with the military there and earns a €2,000 salary, she said. The decision to leave her homeland is not one she will take lightly, however. "It's an option, not a must."

Unemployed civil engineer Giannis Grigoriou does not have the luxury of waiting the crisis out, and is planning to emigrate to an Arab country because he thinks he will have more luck finding work.

"The situation is awful. Had I known this four to five years ago, I would have studied to be a chef or hairdresser, which have more appeal in this country," he said.

Greek emigration, particularly among the young, "is not a new phenomenon, but increased considerably during the crisis", said economic geography professor Lois Labrianidis of Thessaloniki University. He has been called in to help at the Economy Ministry, and wants more done to boost investments and develop high-value industries to encourage young graduates to stay in Greece.

He hopes the government will be able to renegotiate with the creditors, saying: "If we don't have to pay more money, we'll have more money to put in the economy. These days are crucial for Greece, but especially for the young."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2015, with the headline 'Young Greeks head overseas to escape crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe