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Greek youth lose faith in the future

When Greek unemployment hit another record high at the end of 2011, it was the first time that the number of young people without a job outnumbered those in work. Qurratul-Ain Haider, a journalist based in Geneva, reports from Athens.

News | 29 May 2012
A severe raft of austerity measures to salvage the country’s debt crisis, along with a youth unemployment rate standing at over 50 per cent, has shattered Greek confidence.

So much so that for a society that takes great pride in its antiquity, traditions and family bonds, there is a new trend that sees youngsters planning their futures abroad.

“It is sad that the youth of the country are forced to move away from their homes and seek jobs in other countries while politicians have enjoyed life,” says Fiona, a young student of International Relations at Athens University.
It is sad that the youth of the country are forced to move away from their homes and seek jobs in other countries while politicians have enjoyed life."

Those who cannot migrate are often spared the ignominy of unemployment and destitution by living with elderly parents, says Fotini, an art teacher in the Plaza district of Athens. What is disturbing in Athens is the loss of hope – so synonymous with youth.

This gloom is palpable in the heart of the city, in Syntagma Square, where a tree has become the new shrine of Athens. It is here that Dimitris Christoulas, a retired pharmacist, shot himself in April this year in protest against the Government’s severe austerity measures.

As people stand around the tree that is adorned with commemorative candles and heartfelt messages from the general public identifying with Christoulas’ economic despair, one can’t help notice the number of youngsters that frequent the spot to read the messages pinned on the tree trunk.

Most Greek youth aren’t surprised at the economic mess they face right now.

They’ve grown up hearing their parents complain about the economy. Many have come to the conclusion that the current crisis is the result of over three decades of political greed and insensitivity… and even a result of immigration.

“There are many problems in the city and unemployment is not the only one. Immigration is a big issue. We are not racist. Please remember that. But the immigration has gone out of control. There just aren’t enough jobs for locals” says Eleni, a teacher of architecture in Athens.

Eleni’s comment throws a light on what a recent ILO study has stated: In developing countries, youth are disproportionately among the working poor, creating a strong stimulus for emigration. And what better place to see this than in Athens’downtown shopping area of Omonia.

Here we find Aman, a young Bangladeshi, who sits on a stool on the pavement outside a store in Omonia shouting out prices of the cheap household goods to passersby.

Sometimes his stoutly looking Greek boss yells at him to lift heavy boxes around the shop. How did you get here? Aman looks down the street, spits his chewing gum, and rattles off the migrant-agent route: “Saudi Arabia, Iran, mountains, Turkey, across the border and here.”

His Greek boss now looks cagey and stares at his Hindi-speaking employee. Not difficult to figure out: Aman is an undocumented migrant who will work for less.

But Aman’s labour is still more appreciated than it would be back home. He explains, “1,000 Takas in a month in Dhaka or perhaps nothing at all for some. Here, I earn equivalent to 5,000 Takas. I can earn more for my family back home here.”

This is precisely why young male immigrants from Asia borrow in thousands back home to pay the agents and then risk their lives to make an illegal entry into Greece.

But Aman is luckier than his Bangladeshi friend Basheer who lost his job when a local Greek factory shut down.

Despite the cultural differences and havoc the economic crisis has created in the lives of many, be it Bangladeshi Aman or Greek Fiona, youth unemployment is on everybody’s mind on the streets of Athens.

The discouragement of Greek youth: video report from Athens

According to the ILO's Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012, it may take 4-5 years before jobs rebound. In the meantime, many of the 75 million unemployed young people will completely give up looking for work. ILO TV reports from Athens, Greece