By Ioanna Fotiadi
Thousands of new emigres who have left Europe’s crisis-hit south and Ireland participated in a new study on emigration trends conducted by the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence in cooperation with Trinity College Dublin, the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid and the Technical University of Lisbon. More than 1,000 online questionnaires were submitted by Greeks. The study was completed on August 18.
“We are carrying out this research because we observed a general weakness in the way that the wave of mass migration is being defined,” Dr Roubini Gropa, a researcher at EUI and a lecturer at the University of Thrace’s Law Department, told Kathimerini. According to the researcher, an initial assessment of the survey results reveals a lot about the situation in each individual country.
“In contrast to what most people think, 50 percent of Greeks who left the country already had a job,” Gropa said. “Many had returned to Greece after studying abroad.”
According to the study, those Greeks saw their expectations dashed and had few prospects for career evolution in Greece when they made the difficult decision to leave. Together with their higher education degrees and professional titles, they also carried a lot of anger.
“Anger is very evident among the Greek and Portuguese participants,” noted Gropa. “They talk about corrupt political leaderships that quell ambition and sideline anyone who isn’t part of the system. In this particular group, it was not the crisis that pushed them away; the crisis was just the last straw. I would go as far as to say that political reasons compelled many of them to leave.”
Of course, as well as the brain drain of highly qualified and trained professionals who are pursuing strong careers abroad, there are also those who were forced to leave their country as a matter of survival.
“These people feel hurt because they didn’t have a choice,” said Gropa, explaining that the flight began in earnest in the second half of 2010, indicating that Greece was not affected by the global economic crisis in 2008.
That was not the case in the rest of Southern Europe, however.
According to Dr Joao Peixoto from the Technical University of Lisbon, in Portugal “the exodus of young people began as far back as 2002. In the last three years the situation has simply grown worse.”
Portuguese emigres are so far the best represented in the survey with 3,000 respondents.
“In the first two days after a story about the survey was published in the Publico newspaper, we were flooded by thousands of e-mails,” Peixoto said, adding that this willingness to participate also says a lot about the Portuguese temperament.
“They continue to maintain very close ties with their homeland; they read the Portuguese press and take an interest in domestic developments. Their biggest hope is that one day they’ll be able to return. They work with us because they too are interested in locating the root of the evil and in pulling it out,” Peixoto added.
The Portuguese academic noted that his is a nation that is constantly on the move.
“Emigration has never stopped; even in the 1980s and 90s, people left the country,” Peixoto said, adding that even the country’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho in 2010 encouraged young people to emigrate, raising a storm of controversy.
“Sending us away and covering up a problem is not the task of politicians; solving it is,” said Peixoto. “No one dreams of emigrating.”
Back in Greece, a different trend is beginning to unfold and it concerns people who came to Greece for a better life and are now looking for a way out.
At a central Athens office that helps people immigrate to Canada, there have been a handful of Greek applicants, but many Albanians.
Dozens of construction workers who have been in Greece for 20 years or so and who have built their lives here and had children are seeking a way out as they enter their third or even fourth year of unemployment.
“The idea of emigrating is not as daunting to them because it is something they have already done before and they’re not scared to take the risk again,” said 25-year-old Katerina Haska, who welcomes Albanian applicants into the building, which is shared with the Liter Art society of Albanian artists in Athens.
“The usual story is that the husband does a few odd jobs here and there, the wife may work but doesn’t get paid, but they have dreams for their children and want them to study,” said Haska.
The office has been in operation since April with the cooperation of the Colin R. Singer law firm in Canada, where the Department of Immigration’s website lists 24 occupations for which there is a shortage, including in such diverse areas as engineering and medical technicians.
Despite the interest from Albanian applicants, however, most have been turned away.
According to Paul Anastasiadis, the local representative of the Canadian law firm, there are two major obstacles. “The language barrier, as most do not speak English, and the absence of any sort of documentation confirming their work experience.”
He added that of the 60-plus applications the firm received, just six were approved.
“We believe that Canada is more suitable to Greeks and Cypriots as most speak English and have degrees and certificates,” Anastasiadis said, adding that the application process takes between 8 and 12 months over four stages. It costs around 6,250 Canadian dollars, which is paid in installments.