Although businesses owned by immigrants still make up the core of economic activity in downtown Athens, recent data compiled by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry show a sharp decline in numbers.
Data show that of the businesses operating in the neighborhoods of Omonia, Metaxourgeio, Psyrri, and Victoria, Vathis and Koumoundourou squares, the majority (567) are owned by Albanians. A total of 456 shops are owned by Chinese, 202 by Syrians, 124 by Egyptians, 122 by Pakistanis and 92 by Poles. A smaller number of businesses are owned by Bulgarians, Romanians, Bangladeshis, Ukrainians, Russians and Lebanese.
“Most of them left,” says Arat Uhan, a small-business man from Syria, about his fellow countrymen who left Greece in the early years of the financial crisis.
“As job opportunities became more scarce and they found it increasingly tough to make ends meet, many decided to move to Central Europe,” Uhan said.
Uhan, now 45, moved to Greece in 1999 to work in the construction sector ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, but ended up staying. He worked in construction for a few years until he made enough money to open a store selling phones. He hired three Syrian employees. Things are much harder these days, says Uhan, who had to lay off his staff.
Meanwhile, in the parts of the city where businesses are closing down, few steps have been taken to improve security and sanitation.
“The center is slipping into decline. At this rate it will soon resemble a ghetto,” said Dimitris Nikolakopoulos, a member of the KIPOKA citizens’ movement. “In order to keep the city clean and safe, those who live or run businesses in the center must look after the city. Regrettably, I see this is not always the case,” he said.
Vasso Nikolopoulou, president of Panathinaia, a local residents’ association, is worried that the remaining migrants, most of them young men, are resorting to crime to make a living because there are no jobs and they are not able to leave the country.
“Security has become a constant concern for those who live in the center. I have lived near Koumoundourou Square for many years. Every day I see people selling or doing drugs inside the park. There is no control,” she said.
Nikolopoulou says the association has repeatedly complained about the situation to the authorities and the headquarters of the ruling SYRIZA party in the area, but no steps have been taken to improve the situation.