Greece hopes migrant burden will turn into boon

By Hélène Colliopoulou — Two decades ago, an influx of half a million migrants boosted Greece’s economy. Today, the government and some experts hope a new wave of migrants will do the same. Some 60,000 refugees, including many young Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis, have been stuck in Greece for the past year, languishing in camps after the doors to Europe were shut. But unlike in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the migrants, mainly from Albania and Bulgaria, benefited from a booming economy, Greece has been unable to make the most of the recent arrivals.
“The refugees we have now are different” since many still hope to reach northern Europe and have no intention of settling in Greece, said Stavros Zografakis, an associate professor at the Agricultural University of Athens.
But the situation today reflects the opposite: The country’s economy has been pummelled over the past seven years due to Greece’s debt crisis and the austerity policies that followed.
And even though the EU has provided the nation with millions of euros to help with the heavy flow of migrants, particularly with housing, “for now the results are negative,” Zografakis said.
In Athens, over one million euros ($1.08 million) has been injected into the economy via a refugee housing programme, financed in part with the EU funds.
The funds help pay for rents several months in advance, for prepaid supermarket cards and metro and bus tickets, and the salaries of about 100 people hired to carry out the programme.
The money “has a direct impact on the local economy, but for the long term, an integration and social cohesion plan is needed at the national level,” said Lefteris Papagiannakis, deputy mayor of Athens in charge of refugees and migrants.
But landlords are thrilled.
“No more unpaid rent or bills,” said Sophia Alikhan, who said her in-laws had rented a 90-square-metre apartment to a Syrian family since June 2016, after it had stood empty for seven months.
Andreas Samaras, owner of the Cafe Omonia in central Athens, said that “80 per cent of sales for stores in the neighbourhood” came from refugees.
Experts say sectors like tourism and agriculture, that offer flexibility for workers, could prove attractive for migrants, as they have in the past.
“They accept lower wages, and the jobs that Greeks don’t want,” Zografakis said. — AFP