Greek resilience has been stretched thin, leaving many disillusioned and apprehensive of a future in the European Union. The continued deterioration of the Greek economy is taking its toll on virtually every aspect of society. Few have been unaffected by savage wage and pension cuts, new taxes and record joblessness. Meanwhile, thousands of refugees who hoped to cross through Greece to other areas of Europe are trapped by closed borders, causing a humanitarian crisis that Greece is struggling to deal with.
Immigration & Asylum
The primary entry point for immigrants to Europe, Greece has seen 1.3 million people arrive in the country since 2015 in search of safety and a better life, often hoping to reunite with family in other European countries. Most come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Africa via the porous Turkish border and Greece's outlying islands.
In 2016 a deal between the EU and Turkey brought the closure of European borders with Greece and a plan to return illegal migrants to Turkey, in an attempt to discourage migrants from crossing the ocean to reach Greece. In exchange, the EU committed to giving Turkey €6 billion to deal with their own refugee crisis. The numbers of refugees reaching the islands dropped drastically; some islands that saw up to 5000 arrivals daily in 2015 saw as few as 100 arrivals a day in 2017. Consequently, the number of drownings in the dangerous crossing has also declined greatly.
Nevertheless, many NGOs and humanitarian groups believe the deal has not only been unsuccessful but has increased human suffering. To date, less than 1000 refugees have been returned to Turkey. For many refugees who fled persecution and risked perilous boat journeys to reach Greece, Turkey is not considered a safe option. The alternative is to be trapped in Greece where, at the time of writing, 62,000 refugees waited for processing. Over 14,000 of these are on the southeastern islands and more than half are women and children, many unaccompanied. Conditions in overflowing camps have deteriorated drastically, with widespread crime and abuse. Increased trauma and depression have also brought a rise in suicide attempts. Many refugees have been trapped for over a year and have run out of money and hope.
European press coverage of the crisis led to a slight decline in tourism on some southeastern islands in 2016, despite little evidence that refugees had any interaction with or impact on tourists. Within Greece, economic decline has fuelled xenophobia, sparking anti-immigrant rallies and growing hostility, yet deep-rooted Greek hospitality has reared its noble head, particularly on the islands. Despite their own financial struggles, many Greeks independently offer food and clothing to immigrants while local doctors volunteer to care for them.
The multi-billion-euro bailouts loaned to Greece by its EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) creditors in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015 have come with strong strings. To secure them, the Greek government was forced to implement austerity measures that saw severe wage and pension cuts and increased taxes while living costs soared at an unpalatable rate. At the same time, unemployment reached around 23%.
Austerity measures and declining living standards have also widened Greece's stark economic and social disparities – the hedonistic lifestyles of Athenians taking weekend jaunts to Mykonos bear no resemblance to struggling pensioners whose pensions have been cut by 40%. Homelessness, suicides and once-rare violent crime have risen. Growing anger and social unrest has sparked mass strikes, demonstrations and violent clashes with police. Disillusioned young Greeks are bearing the brunt of years of economic mismanagement – the country's most educated generation faces bleak prospects as youth unemployment sits at 46%. There is a feeling of despair that is decidedly un-Greek.
Greece's once-shrinking villages are welcoming a new wave of nouveau-poor Greeks. Families of out-of-work professionals and tradespeople, along with unemployed university graduates, are returning to ancestral homes on the islands and to help with family businesses, often in tourism or farming. An increase in agricultural employment is one of the byproducts of the times, going back to Greece's traditional strength and way of life. An increasing number of educated under-30s are also migrating to other parts of Europe, America and Australia to find employment.