Hit by economic crisis, migrants are heading back home

Hundreds of migrants among those who began coming to Greece in the early 1990 in order to seek a better life for themselves and their families, are packing up their belongings, vacating their homes, mustering their courage and setting off for the one-way journey back home, compelled by the economic crisis.

Athenian neighborhoods that are known for having large migrant populations such as Neapoli, Kypseli, Omonia, Victoria, Aghios Panteleimonas and Patissia are being abandoned, and more and more ?to let? signs are adorning doors and street lamps along their streets. Small basement apartments and tiny lofts built atop apartment buildings are emptying out as the city?s migrants begin to leave en masse.

The biggest outflow has been noted among the Albanian community in Greece, which has felt the effect of the slump, especially in the construction sector. In many neighborhoods around the capital you will see Albanian men taking their kids to the nearby playground or wiling away time in the local cafe because they no longer have a job to go to. The women, moreover, many of whom work as household help, are seeing more cancellations than new jobs.

?Many have been thinking about moving back home since last year, but their children, many of whom go to Greek school and do not speak Albanian, are the reason why they?re hesitating,? one member of the community told Kathimerini.

When the school year came to an end in June, however, a number of them decided to take the plunge.

?At first, one of the two parents, the one who hasn?t got a job, will go ahead and discover more about the situation,? the same person, who declined to be named, said. ?Some go all together and spend the entire summer there just to see what it?s like, though these are normally people who are reasonably well off.?

The Albanian government has responded to the influx of repatriations, according to Flutura Tafilaku, a member of the Union of Albanian Associations in Athens, with ?policies encouraging them to return.?

Most look forward to starting a business of their own or being self-employed as wages remain at very low levels in the neighboring country. According to Tafilaku, ?there are large swathes of farmland in Albania that have been abandoned, but everyone wants to move into the city to start up a small business.?

Some, adds Tzanetos Antypas, head of the non-governmental organization Praxis, have already laid the foundations for this. ?Many Albanians have invested in the coastal area by building rooms to let and are now going back to run them and add to them,? said Antypas. ?In Europe, Albanian seaside resorts have been heavilly promoted as a cheap tourist destination.?

It is estimated that of the some 500,000 Albanians that lived in Greece, 50,000 have returned home since 2004. Others, meanwhile, are looking further afield. ?A great percentage of our compatriots are planning to migrate West, to Canada or the USA,? noted journalist Frida Bedaj.

It is not just Albanians, however, who are finding fewer reasons to stay in Greece. Romanians, Bulgarians and Poles, now citizens of the European Union, are also returning to their own countries, which have been experiencing a significant boost in growth since their accession to the EU.

?It has become abundantly clear that they will find much better job opportunities there,? said Antypas.

Some Asian immigrants are also pondering the idea of leaving Greece as their work dwindles, putting their residence permits in jeopardy. This option is being considered mostly by young men from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who support entire extended families back home.

?At first they used to visit their families once every year or so and stay for a month,? said Antypas. ?Now, 30 percent left on their usual summer vacation, but they have not purchased a return ticket.?

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