Thousands of Greeks putting plan B into action
By Ioanna Fotiadi
There’s an online forum at www.patriotaki.com, where Greeks from around the world chat and network. Over the past few months, however, conversations have been turning increasingly toward plans to leave Greece.
Thousands of Greeks of every age and from every walk of life are logging on to share ideas and plans or to pose questions about their desire to migrate abroad.
The destinations they have in mind are similar to those of the Greeks who migrated in vast waves back in the 1960s. In Europe, Scandinavian and other Northern European countries seem to hold the greatest allure, especially Sweden, Germany and Belgium, the latter because of hopes for jobs in the European Commission. Australia also appears to be gaining popularity, especially among Greeks hoping to join families that moved out there in the tens of thousands in the 1950s onward.
“Other than the great deal of interest that has been expressed daily since March 2010 in Australia, we have also seen a large number of Australian-born Greeks returning,” the general secretary of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, Costas Markos, told Kathimerini.
Sensing the urgency of the people’s demands, the Greek community has approached the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship to make it easier for Greeks to emigrate there. Within the next few days, a delegation of representatives for the Greek community is expected to meet with Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to present him with an appeal to streamline immigration applications from Greeks.
There are those, of course, who have made it to Australia already. Kathimerini spoke via Skype to 35-year-old Giorgos from Amfissa. “I moved here permanently with my wife and daughter in December,” he said, “and for the time being I am attending seminars at the Australian Manpower Services as I look for a job.”
He explains how for two or three years before he decided to settle in Australia, he had been looking for a plan B as his prospects in Greece diminished by the day. Today, this three-member family is enjoying a pleasant life in the city of Victoria. “Our fortnightly income is more than I got in Greece for a month,” he said. “Here, the state is an ally of the citizen.”
Giorgos explained how in Australia state assistance is constant, fluctuating depending on income. “When you are unemployed you get full benefits, and once you get a job these are reduced. But this kind of financial assistance is something you can always rely on,” he said, adding that he has also been very impressed by the Australian healthcare system.
“My daughter broke her leg and we took her to a provincial public hospital, where the care she received was even better than that at a private Greek hospital,” he recounted. “They played cartoons for her so that she wouldn’t get scared and when we were in the waiting lounge, a doctor asked us if we’d like a cup of coffee!”
Giorgos’s wife is an Australian citizen and this made the process much easier than it is for most. Throughout the process of getting together the paperwork and planning the move, Giorgos posted his experiences and helpful tips on Patriotaki.com. “Within a month I had 6,000-8,000 readers. I was being asked for information even from people who were illiterate,” he said.
Panagiotis, a 44-year-old Australian-born Greek who moved to Adelaide, said that he couldn’t “stand the uncertainty anymore. I moved here and got a job within two months,” he told Kathimerini. He still keeps in touch with his former colleagues at a large private company in Greece, who tell him all about the cutbacks in salaries and staff firings.
“There’s no point in moving to another country in the European Union, because the crisis has affected all the member states. The IMF has ranked Australia the seventh-richest country in the world,” he said.
For the time being, Panagiotis’s children are attending the six-month New Arrivals Program, which helps immigrants learn English and adapt to Australian society.
Interest in European countries has also skyrocketed since 2010, especially from young people, according to data from Europass, an online professional networking service. In 2010, 46,399 residents of Greece and 53,043 Greeks living abroad posted their CVs on the site. In the first four months of 2011, the postings stood at 27,288 and 29,692 respectively, indicating that interest is increasing steadily.
In contrast to previous migration waves, today it is not just doctors and engineers who have good chances of finding work abroad, as there is a good deal of demand in Europe for chefs and patissieres, and especially for professionals in jobs such as marble cutting, carpentry and welding. In fact, knowing how to cook and how a professional kitchen works are among the most sought-after qualities in a job applicant. Cooks the are second most in demand, after mechanics, with 689 businesses posting ads for chefs on Europass.