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Young Greeks flee abroad as crisis deepens

02 July 2015, 15:48

Athens - What does the future look like for young people in crisis-hit Greece, where years of hardship and sky-high unemployment were followed this week by bank closures? The answer: self-imposed exile.

"I don't see a future in Greece," sighs Dani Iordake. The 21-year-old, who proudly sports self-styled tattoos on his arms, was forced to drop out of university to help his mother pay the bills.

"It's a beautiful country... [but] I couldn't imagine living here and struggling every day," he said.

With youth unemployment at nearly 50% and a breakdown in negotiations with Greece's international creditors heralding further financial woes, many of Iordake's contemporaries are packing their bags.

Over 200 000 Greeks have quit the country since the financial crisis began in 2010, according to Endeavor Greece, a local chapter of an entrepreneurial promotional group. They have been driven away by a dearth of jobs, pitiful wages, endemic corruption and lack of meritocracy.

Thirty-two year old Christos Pennos left in 2013 because of a scarcity of opportunities in the scientific field, and managed to snap up a post as a university researcher in Norway.

"My brother lives in Spain, my best friend in Germany. I have a lot of friends in Britain, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and even in Poland," he said.

At first he had only planned to spend two or three years in Norway, but now believes he'll stay longer - though he admits "I really miss my friends and family, and most of all the Greek sun and Greek food".

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his radical left Syriza party were elected on the promise to help those worst hit by years of austerity, but instead have been forced to impose capital controls and close banks.

'Situation is awful'

Friends Marilena and Josie, 22 and 33, catch up over a beer and falafel sandwich, which they eat on a bench in the street while they discuss their future.

As a massage therapist, Josie cannot find full-time work and has been forced in the past to take baby-sitting and cleaning jobs to make ends meet.

"Before the crisis, I was paid $1 440 net. Today, I don't get even half that, gross."

Her boyfriend, a Syrian refugee she met while volunteering for a migrants association, is currently in the Netherlands and she's thinking of going to live with him.

Marilena may also pack up and head to Germany, where her brother lives. He signed up with the military there and earns a 2 000-euro salary, with practically no expenses to pay, she said.

The decision to leave her homeland is not one she will take lightly, however. "It's an option, not a must."

Unemployed civil engineer Giannis Grigoriou does not have the luxury of waiting the crisis out, and is planning to immigrate to an Arab country because he thinks he'll have more luck finding work.

"The situation is awful. Had I known this four to five years ago I would have studied to be a chef or hairdresser, which have more appeal in this country," he said.

Emigration increasing

Greek emigration, particularly among the young, "is not a new phenomenon, but it increased considerably during the crisis," said Lois Labrianidis, economic geography professor at Thessaloniki University.

Labrianidis has been called in to help at the economy ministry, and wants more done to boost investments and develop high-value industries to encourage young graduates to stay in Greece.

He hopes the government will be able to renegotiate with the country's creditors, saying: "If we don't have to pay more money, we'll have more money to put in the economy".

"These days are crucial for Greece, but especially for the young," he said.

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