The elderly woman was in a state of great agitation. She had spent the last of her savings on one-way tickets for herself and her daughter from Greece to Germany, landing in Dusseldorf, where she asked around for the address of the local Greek community center.
“You’re Christians, aren’t you? Take us into your homes!” she shouted in desperation at the members. “Haven’t you got a guest house? Help us!”
Ioanna Zacharaki, an adviser on social integration and multiculturalism at Diakonia Rhineland-Westphalia-Lippe, said that such scenes are far from uncommon when I asked her how she responded to the hysterical woman.
“What could we do? We paid for their hotel and bought them tickets back to Greece,” she said.
“We see a lot. People back home need to understand – and you, the media have to explain it to them – that Germany is not the Promised Land. There are many difficulties that aren’t apparent when you’re looking at the situation from a distance. People shouldn’t just up and leave without any preparation or some rudimentary tools,” Zacharaki added.
The migration expert says that members of Germany’s Greek communities are often called upon to help Greek migrants who have been found sleeping on park benches in Dusseldorf and other cities or who have requested help at Greek churches and parishes.
“They don’t know the situation here. They don’t find out first. They get their families together, spend all of their money and come over, however they can, desperate. Unfortunately, things get ugly for many of them,” explained Zacharaki, who has also been a municipal counsilor in the city of Solingen for 15 years.
Many of the Greeks that Zacharaki has come into contact with have also suggested that there are illegal migration rings taking advantage of the crisis, and made up of Greeks as well.
“People see ads in Greece promising them a home and work in Germany for a fee. They end up paying a lot of money and are then left high and dry,” she told Kathimerini.
The most recent example was a couple, both theology professors, who lost 300 euros to such a gang.
“We had told them not to come and warned them that the ad they had read appeared suspicious,” said Zacharaki. “The came anyway; they took their chances.”
The problem of uncontrolled migration is so severe, according to Zacharaki, that the Network of Greek Associations in North Rhine-Westphalia recently published a special guide with advice for people looking for work and housing in Germany.
“Many people, for example, don’t know that if you want to make a living in Germany you must absolutely speak the language,” Zacharaki, who came to Germany as a student and stayed, explained. “Without German they will never be able to assimilate. If they don’t know the language they must first invest in classes. But many don’t want to get involved in this process. They believe that they will find work in some Greek restaurant and their lives will continue as before. Unfortunately, there are just not that many Greek restaurants in Germany.”
Zacharaki explains that people with degrees and specialized professional experience have more chances of success.
“We get a lot of academics, people with many qualifications; the elite of Greece, a fact that of course concerns us greatly. But even they don’t always find work. People who have better chances are doctors, engineers, educators, nurses and professionals from other areas in which there is a shortage in Germany. As far as unspecialized people are concerned, there are simply too many of them here,” said Zacharaki.
Her advice for people determined to make a go of it is to try to find someone they know in the country who can help them out in the early days, and certainly not to make the attempt with the whole family in tow.
According to Zacharaki, 2012 alone saw around 10,000 Greeks migrating to the Rhineland and around 20,000 to all of Germany.
“The opportunities are limited. We call Germany a giant, but did you know that, at least in this region, most of the municipalities are bankrupt?” Zacharaki concluded.