Greece developing into a melting pot of nations as vibrant migrant communities are established

Greece is looked on as a second home by most of the immigrants who live and work here, while those who are legal residents – roughly 350,000 possess a green card – function as an inseparable part of the Greek social fabric. Legal and illegal immigrants together are estimated to number 1 million. Athens’s multiethnic environment, running to dozens of migrant communities active economically or culturally, or simply trying to survive, is beginning to approach those of New York or London, especially with the strong emergence of international cuisine. Ethiopian, Egyptian, Pakistani and Polish restaurants have been successful these past few years in Athens, attracting, first and foremost, the gourmet Greeks. Of the immigrants, most – 60 percent – are Albanian (legal and illegal), who, due to their long-term presence here, have been pretty much incorporated into Greek society. There are large numbers of Pakistanis and Poles, while organized communities include Nigerians, Bulgarians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Filipinos, Sudanese, Romanians and Bangladeshis. But what do these guest workers say of life in Greece? The Albanians Numbering 350,000 throughout Greece, most have become used to the Greek way of life. While concentrated in Athens, Thessaloniki and on Crete, «even on [the remote island of] Agathonisi, there are Albanians working in restaurants,» as Eda Gemi, of the Albanian Migrants Cultural Center, said. Living at first in small basement flats in the center, especially Kypseli, Patissia and Amerikis and Koliatsou squares, Albanians’ living conditions have by now greatly improved. They work chiefly on building sites and were self-insured until recently, while tens of thousands work in agriculture, a sector that holds little appeal for Greeks. Albanians have also moved into the tourism sector, especially during the summer season on the islands. The women work chiefly as cleaners, without insurance. «Unfortunately, the Greek State is trying to deal with the influx of refugees as an untoward accident, instead of aiming for a smooth incorporation. Nonetheless, Albanians do not show ghettoizing tendencies. The fact that whether an Albanian school pupil can become a flag-bearer [at a parade] is up for discussion is in itself a sign of progress in our relations with Greeks,» said Gemi. The Poles According to statistics by the Polish community, Poles number some 35,000 in all of Greece. Most are in Athens, but a significant proportion live and work in Thessaloniki, Crete and Lamia. Moreover, there is a Polish school operating in the suburb of Holargos in Athens, attended by some 800 pupils. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, Poles have been well absorbed into the labor market. Most work for contractors and are relatively well off, while some have set up businesses. «In Varkiza, for example, Poles have opened bakeries, which operate at a profit,» said the president of the Greek-Polish Friendship and Cooperation Society, Jacek Gmoch (the well-known football coach). Polish immigrants have also entered the fields of medicine and physiotherapy. Relations with Greek culture are excellent. «As refugees, Poles found a refuge in Greece, which they regard as a second home. I think the two nations’ mentalities are quite similar,» Gmoch said. The Pakistanis Chiefly living and working in Attica and the Evia prefecture, Pakistanis do not number more than 35,000, of whom 20,000 are legal. Most regard themselves as being temporarily in this country, since they are bent on returning to Pakistan. Concentrated in the poorer Athenian suburbs, such as Peristeri, Nikaia, Aspropyrgos, Rendi and Nea Ionia, they work chiefly on building sites, in factories, fields and in stockbreeding. On the whole, they appear satisfied with their life in Greece. «We don’t have problems with the Greeks. Racist incidents at our expense are on the whole rare. And, though we suffer some exploitation, we understand,» Bat Ershad, representative of the Pakistani community, said, with a touch of resignation. «Our only demand is for the establishment of a place of worship. We’ve asked for it, but for the time being, the Greek State has not given an affirmative answer.» The Bulgarians According to statistics in Evgenia Markova’s doctoral thesis (under the supervision of Economics Professor Alexandros Sarris at Athens University), «70 percent of illegal Bulgarian immigrants have submitted applications for the acquisition of a White Card.» In their overwhelming majority, Bulgarian migrants are women who come to Greece unaccompanied by other family members. The immigrants regard their stay as temporary, with their goal being to return and use the capital they acquired in Greece. Bulgarian immigrants are largely occupied in the gray economy, where education is not a comparative advantage. As domestic labor, women earn less money than men, receiving food and accommodation in lieu of part of their pay. The Nigerians Numbering some 3,000 in the whole of Greece, Nigerians work in the private sector and live in Thessaloniki and the Athens suburbs of Kypseli, Acharnes, Koliatsou Square and Ambelokipi. «Although I haven’t been given the opportunity to acquire Greek nationality, I regard Greece as my second home,» said the president of the Nigerian community, Tony Briggs. He noted that hundreds of his compatriots had come to this country as students on scholarship in order to solve their economic problems. Trying to make ends meet Ukrainian Alexandra Stinkova has lived and worked for four years in Athens. A literature teacher with two degrees, she worked at her given profession in her own country for some years, but received pay only in the shape of bottles of vodka. Five lessons were equivalent to five bottles of vodka. The problems of survival were prohibitive for a widow and mother of two children. «The situation was impossible. I came to Athens, and for the first few years, I cleaned houses and looked after old people. The money was good but it was very tiring. Today, I work as a teacher at a Ukrainian community school for 170,000 drachmas (500 euros) a month and at the weekends, I clean staircases. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to maintain my family,» she told Kathimerini. Her colleague from Ukraine, Didus Miroslava, a teacher for 28 years, came to Greece alone. Her life abroad is not the best of experiences. «I teach primary school kids during the week and at the weekends I work as a cleaner in various houses. Over there, there wasn’t enough money even for food, while here I just about manage. I hope to save up money and return to my country.»