Sotiris Alexopoulos has been helping the desperate and destitute spawned by Greece’s economic free fall since he lost his job in 2010. This year, he began catering to a new group of stricken people: the thousands of refugees arriving at the port of Piraeus.
“We are like them, we had the same needs,” Alexopoulos, 65, said as he helped distribute food and clothing to some of the 1,400 who had traveled overnight on a ferry from the island of Lesvos, [sic] their entry point to Europe. “We are the poor people doing something to help ourselves.”
“Greece isn’t out of the danger zone,” said Panagiotis Pikrammenos, who led a caretaker government in 2012 when Greece’s cash shortage risked unraveling the euro. “The coming months will be a make-or-break moment.”
After six years of recession and austerity, the economy is still a mess. Banks are restricting withdrawals, pensions are whittled and unemployment remains around 25 percent. The government is relying on an ever-slimmer majority in parliament to pass more of the legislation required in the most recent aid deal. But at least there was a deal and the bailout money is flowing.
Even as Greece’s economy shriveled by about a quarter since 2010, the country has coped with the influx of refugees because most don’t stay, Alexopoulos said. They head into former Yugoslavia and then north and west toward Germany and Sweden.
“It’s manageable because they are passing through,” Alexopoulos said. “If the flow now stops, God help us — and them.”
Greece has spent 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) from its over-stretched budget on rescuing refugees and giving them accommodation, food and health care, Immigration Policy Minister Ioannis Mouzalas said this week. It’s now starting to access the EU money allocated to the country, but it’s not enough, he said.
“Things are out of control,” said Anastasios Boubalos, 55, who sells cigarettes, newspapers and snacks from a kiosk on the square. He said with Greeks already fighting for survival, the country can’t afford new dependents.
“Greece is a poor country,” he said. “There are many Greeks who don’t have food, who can’t pay their bills.”
For Giorgos Kaminis, the New York-born mayor of Athens, it was just another example of how Greece has failed to build sufficient political consensus to confront the economic catastrophe. Throw refugees into the mix, and he sees no brighter prospects going into another year of hardship.
“I see things getting darker again,” said Kaminis. “I have learned to live with a perpetual emergency situation.”
Full article: It’s Not Going to Get Any Better for Greece in 2016 (BloombergBusiness)