By Ioanna Fotiadi
On almost any flight to Nicosia from Athens or Thessaloniki these days, there is bound to be one person with too much baggage and a nervous smile, hoping to make a fresh start in Cyprus. Most will succeed as hundreds of Greeks before them who have found jobs in tourism, catering, financial services and education, as well as in one of the 1,500 Greek businesses that have relocated to the Eastern Mediterranean island in the last 20 months.
The wave of Greek emigres to Cyprus began in earnest in 2010 and has continued unabated to date. According to figures from the Cypriot social security agency, in April 2011, of the total 31,000 Greeks registered as residents on the island, 10,000 were registered with the social security fund and 2,000 were receiving unemployment benefits from the Cypriot state. At the same time, 1,043 Greeks were employed by the Cypriot civil service and 471 were serving in the education sector.
Greek economic migrants were initially welcomed very warmly by the Cypriots. According to one employer, who declined to be named, “they had significant work experience and qualifications. Tourism enterprises were saved as they found employees with experience and who spoke excellent English as well as Greek.”
With the passage of time, however, and Cyprus’s unemployment index climbing from 3 to 10 percent, the mood shifted, especially in the education sector, where the number of Greek applicants shot up to 9,000. Experts concede that the crisis Cyprus is currently experiencing cannot be compared to Greece’s, though they say that the situation is similar to Greece in 2008 as state spending is being cut and the construction sector is suffering a slowdown.
The common language and shared cultural roots, the short distance from home and low crime rates have all contributed to making Cyprus especially attractive for Greeks looking for alternatives.
“I am very pleased at the prospect of raising my children here,” 41-year-old sociologist Gerasimos Haritopoulos, who arrived in Cyprus in late April, told Kathimerini. “I was called in for an interview for the job in the first ad I responded to,” he said.
Haritopoulos now works as the director of an institution for people with mental disabilities.
“I am hoping that I will soon be joined by my wife and our two children -- aged 1 and 3. The motivation to emigrate is not just financial, but also the quality of life and the prospects I can offer my children.”
Slaviana, a 25-year-old photographer and mother of a toddler, is packing her bags for Cyprus for much the same reason.
“I have relatives in Cyprus who will help me and my husband,” she said. “I have been looking for a job here [in Greece] since September and have found nothing satisfactory. I am very worried about the spread of the crisis and I think I would feel much safer if I moved from Europe altogether.”
Costas Karathanasis, aged 30, has been working at the University of Cyprus since late August. Having completed his doctorate at the National Technical University of Athens in biomedical technology and served his mandatory term in the military, he had concluded that academic life suited him well. In Greece, however, that was an avenue that was closed to him.
“I started putting together the paperwork needed to move to Switzerland when some friends told me that they were looking for people with my qualifications in Cyprus,” Karathanasis said. Ten days later he moved to Nicosia on a fellowship.
“The bureaucratic process went by very fast and most of the paperwork was taken care of by the university’s administration,” said Karathanasis. Today, just a few weeks before the end of his first academic year there, he is very pleased with his decision last summer. “The working conditions here are excellent and the mentality is close to our own, while I’ve forgotten what crime is,” he said. “In fact, many friends back in Greece keep asking me whether I’ve heard of any job openings.”