wildfires-in-greeceIn July 2022, Greece experienced a heatwave that led to several wildfires in the nation. The impacts of wildfires in Greece go beyond the destruction of the environment — these wildfires impact livelihoods, destroy homes and push people further into poverty. According to the World Bank, in 2019, 17.7% of Greece’s population lived under the national poverty line.

Increasing Incidents of Wildfires in Greece

Beginning on July 23, 2022, Greece endured a heatwave predicted to span at least 10 days with temperatures expected to hit about 107 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas. The same day, Greece endured four wildfires, which led to emergency evacuations of hundreds of citizens. The wildfires led to the destruction of homes, businesses and hotels. Several other wildfires preceded these wildfires in multiple areas of the country.

Greece saw 30 wildfires in the first quarter of the year, a massive uptick from the nation’s average of four in the same number of months. These wildfires led to the damage of almost 2,500 acres of land compared to Greece’s average of about 92 acres. Many people have also faced hospitalizations as a result of the fires.

Impact on Poverty

The wildfires in Greece have affected the entire population in one way or another and the poorer population face disproportionate impacts. Impoverished people do not have sufficient resources to easily rebuild their lives after losing their homes and possessions to wildfires.

Wildfires in Greece also impact the livelihoods of people, which further increases the risk of poverty. For example, in 2021, the Greek area of Evia experienced wildfires that destroyed the pine trees that people relied on for their livelihoods.

Giorgos Anagnostou provides a first-hand account of this to NPR. He is a pine resin producer and lives in a village where the majority of people survive by collecting pine resin, which they later sell for use “in everything from paint to pharmaceuticals.” In the aftermath of the wildfires, pine resin producer Thanasis Agiasofitis told NPR that he and others “will likely have to move to find work.” A 70-year-old farmer, Kostas Christodoulou, lost 400 sheep in wildfires last year. He survived by hiding in a small cave.

World Impact

To address the wildfires occurring in 2021, in the first week of August 2021, Greece along with several other Mediterranean countries requested help from the European Union (EU) to assist with the rampant forest fires. The European Union deployed nine airplanes, almost 1,000 firefighters and 200 vehicles to provide assistance to Greece.

In 2022, the EU set up a response “designed to lead to a permanent Europe-wide cooperation program,” according to Bloomberg. The aim is to scale-up efforts to address wildfire seasons in Europe overall. On July 2, 2022, the EU sent more than 200 firefighters from six European countries to Greece to assist with controlling the fires.

Looking Ahead

Aside from the impacts on the well-being of Greek citizens, wildfires in Greece are causing the country and the country’s people severe economic losses. Through the support of the EU, firefighters from across Europe are stepping in to assist Greek firefighters on the frontlines to prevent further losses.

Alex Peterson
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Migratory BirdsThe Migratory Birds is a newspaper that 15 Afghan refugees founded while working with the Network for Children’s Rights Center in Athens, Greece. The paper’s mission is to report the situations and the lives of refugees within the youth center. Refugees have always lacked a voice in the media, which led to Migratory Birds’ goal of providing them with one. Operating out a youth center in Athens, many journalists spanning many different countries and origins are coming together to share the stories of those whose hasn’t been shared before.

Refugee-Led Initiative in Greece

Migratory Birds, a bi-product of the Young Journalists program, which, “boasts a bi-monthly circulation of 13,000″ is the only still standing initiative in Greece that refugees are reading, according to The World.

Each issue of Migratory Birds has articles that consist of first-hand accounts about life as a refugee. This, among others, includes love poems refugees write and recipes for traditional dishes from the author’s home country. The local distribution route of Migratory Birds goes to refugee camps and various humanitarian organizations all throughout Greece.

Founding Voices

Mahdia Hosseini, 28 and Fatima Sedaghat, 16, are the founders of Migratory Birds and work at the Network for Children’s Rights Youth Center in Athens, Greece. These two met in a refugee camp called Schisto, which is also located in Athens. They, along with 13 other refugees, founded the newspaper because they wanted to change the way the mainstream media represents refugees and migrants, The World reports.

The main motivator behind the project was the fear that refugees felt when talking to journalists. A fear that came from not having their stories shown to the world in a proper manner. The goal of the publication is to “empower the social integration of adolescent and young refugees and fight xenophobia.” The publication dedicates itself to the principles of journalism, promoting conversations across a variety of cultures and helping young people express themselves.

Operating from a youth center based in Kolonos, a neighborhood within Athens, the mission of Migratory Birds is to share the truth regarding the lives of refugees in the Schisto camp, “their fears and frustrations and hopes and dreams,” according to The World.

First-Hand Accounts

Hosseini has a desire to show the world who refugees truly are because she feels that most people don’t possess a true understanding of refugees. “I think we needed to be heard and for people to understand us, I mean refugees and migrants,” she said to The World.

The freedom of speech, an essential right to all but especially to these aspiring journalists was an opportunity provided by Migratory Birds. The newspaper gave these refugees something that wasn’t available in their home countries. Abdul Rashid, a 16-year-old refugee from Afghanistan and a member of Migratory Birds said that he’s happy that he gets to write about what he experienced during migration without fear, The World reports.

Morteza, who is a member of the Young Journalists team, described the way that mainstream media often covers refugee stories. “Eventually what comes out is often the story of the ‘miserable refugee.’ I think this is unfair. That is why I participate in the Newspaper ‘Migratory Birds.’ We write our own stories, we get to know the world and we give people the opportunity to get to know us better,” he said.

The Problem

Exactly how does the media represent refugees? Social psychology defines the “identifiable victim effect,” as people interacting differently with words and images that depict the struggles of a single person rather than groups of people.

Western media commonly represents refugees as “anonymous, faceless masses.” The result of this depiction is the audience feeling detached from the hardships the subject has to face. According to The Conversation, a recent study showed pictures of refugees to almost 4,000 Europeans. After showing them images of large groups or images where they cannot identify the individual, viewers showed increased desensitization of the refugees at that point. Some of the responses from the test subjects revealed that they felt refugees are a crisis in the countries that they journey to.

Migratory Birds seeks to share the whole truth regarding the lives of the refugees living within camps in Athens, Greece. Due to a lack of a proper voice in mainstream media, Migratory Birds took the mission of providing them with one onto themselves. By bringing together journalists that come from various backgrounds and cultures, the publication desires to give refugees proper and genuine representation, so the world can know what life as a refugee is truly like.

– Henry Hyman
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Greece
Greece has significant potential when it comes to sustainable energy, with plenty of wind, water and sun to go around. The Greek government is implementing creative solutions to rapidly propel the advancement of renewable energy in Greece.

Green Energy in Greece

For years, Greece has lagged behind other European countries in terms of renewable energy, sticking with coal as a primary source of power. While other nations installed wind and solar farms, Greece’s primary energy producer, the Public Power Corporation (PPC) insisted on burning coal for decades, causing carbon emissions to skyrocket past what they otherwise could have been. Fortunately, in the past few years, Greece and the PPC are taking steps toward renewable energy.

Overcoming Socioeconomic Obstacles

When switching to renewable energy, many nations struggle to balance the tightrope that is the free market, as dramatic sanctions on companies can have very serious economic consequences that personally affect citizens. Generally speaking, the people of Greece have supported the switch to renewable energy, but the issue is not without nuance. There is often a battle between what is affordable and what is environmentally friendly and the stakes are high for low-income families who cannot afford a higher cost of living.

As such, there are obstacles to the implementation of renewable energy in Greece. The coal industry is an enormous employer and shutting down coal energy means thousands of job losses and bankrupt businesses. Residents of the Mesohora village opposed the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the area as the dam would inevitably cause the area to flood, requiring residents to move elsewhere.

Combating Aftereffects

These foreseeable issues are not impossible to overcome and Greece is prepared to deal with them in creative ways that ensure the best outcomes for the citizens, the economy and the climate, giving hope to other nations struggling to strike a similar balance.

Perhaps the best example of this is the auction program that the European Union approved in November 2021. Greece is allotting roughly €2.27 billion to offer as incentives to help renewable energy producers. This idea is not new and often faces criticism because of the way it disrupts market competition.

However, this program solves that issue by awarding money through an auction system. Companies must compete against each other to receive this subsidy and receive judgment based on how efficient and affordable their results are. Therefore, the only companies that receive aid will be the companies that present the best and most well-balanced ideas regarding renewable energy.

At the beginning of the partnerships, the winning companies receive a set “reference price” that is a rough reflection of what the country can afford to pay. If the newly selected companies can keep their costs below that reference price, the government will pay them the difference. If their prices rise above the reference price, the company must compensate the government with the difference between prices.

This way, the government always pays the same price for renewable energy, but the companies have the motivation to keep costs as low as possible, while simultaneously having a stable market to work with.

Additionally, the Greek government has introduced subsidies for low-income families that allow them to receive free electricity from solar power plants. It is also investing money toward minimizing the effects that energy switching will have on citizens’ livelihoods.

Current Energy Situation

The transition to renewable energy in Greece is seeing success. In early April 2022, Greece opened the “largest double-sided solar farm” in all of Europe.

Interestingly, the farm construction stems from the company Hellenic Petroleum, the largest oil refinery corporation in the country, now headed for greener pastures. The solar farm will provide power to about 75,000 households, representing a significant move toward renewable energy.

For years, the PPC was adamant about using coal, but this is no longer the case. The PPC is well on its way toward clean energy. Important to note is the fact that fossil fuels are unequal — different fuels produce different amounts of carbon dioxide. For every megajoule of energy produced, high-caliber coal generates roughly 2.6 times more carbon dioxide than natural gas generates.

Low-quality coal, such as the lignite coal Greece uses, produces at least four times more carbon dioxide than natural gas does. Even though switching from one fossil fuel to another may not sound like an exceptional solution, for Greece, it could significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Therefore, the PPC is using gas as a stepping stone on its path to neutralizing emissions — the corporation plans to primarily use gas by 2025 and completely eliminate its use of coal by 2028.

Looking Ahead

Greece met its 2020 goal of renewable energy use with renewables accounting for around 22% of its total energy use. According to the country’s National Energy and Climate Plan, the nation expects to generate 61% of its energy through renewable sources by 2030. By 2050, Europe has a plan to be carbon-neutral with net-zero emissions. Renewable energy in Greece is certainly on its way to success. Despite the seemingly insurmountable economic challenges that are commonly tangled up in the renewable energy issue, the message is clear: it is possible to implement renewable energy so that everyone can have access to it.

– Mia Sharpe
Photo: Piqsels

Greek Freak For the past several seasons in the NBA, there has been a bright, blinding and rising star who has continued to awe and engage hearts across the world year after year: Giannis Antetokounmpo. But what makes the “Greek Freak” so incredible is not only what he has been able to do on the court, but also his experience and devotion to those off the court and back in his home country of Greece through the AntetokounBros Academy.

The Antetokounmpos’ History

In 2019, Antetokounmpo and his brothers began this basketball academy to support young adults and children from underprivileged socioeconomic groups. The academy provides its participants with the opportunities to get involved with sports and to sometimes just get a hot meal and some rest. As of 2021, the AntetokounBros Academy has helped several hundred kids get onto the basketball court and impacted many more lives through community outreach.

The Antetokounmpos grew up in difficult circumstances as “stateless” Nigerian immigrants in Greece. Since they were young, Giannis and his older brother Thanassis began hawking things like sunglasses on the streets to help their parents pay for living expenses. The family would often go without meals for several days.

These circumstances are not uncommon in Athens and in Greece as a whole. Since the financial crises of the late 2010s, Greece has struggled to bounce back after major economic hits. This has resulted in Greece experiencing the third-highest poverty rate in the European Union. In 2015, the European Parliament reported 45% of children in Greece were living without basic goods and services.

Addressing the Problems

In the light of this hardship, the brothers have stated that they believe basketball brought them where they are today. The community it gave them and the time they spent at basketball camps –which provided paid meals or free clothes– were incredibly helpful for them as they grew up.

Athens is the largest metropolitan area with the densest concentration of people in Greece. It is also the hometown of the Antetokounmpo brothers. As such, the AntetokounBros Academy is a program that promotes community involvement for the youth of Athens to get involved with sports, specifically basketball. A Eurostat study found that “4 in 10” under the age of 17 are at risk of “poverty or social exclusion,” and the situation for the people of Athens specifically is extremely dire.

Over the years, the academy has also come to serve as a community center and help center; it takes in and develops young players and coaching staff from all around Greece, with a particular interest in people from communities that are struggling socioeconomically.

Considering the Impact

The AntetokounBros Academy has set out to inspire charitable work through basketball and outreach in the local community. The academy does everything from hosting food drives to collecting donations worldwide — with help from the Greek Freak himself of course. It hosts tournaments, provides mentoring workshops and scouts talent.

The AntetokounBros Academy has partnered with the Onassis Foundation, Nike, EuroHoops and the NBA to bring about awareness. The organizations also work to show the world the results that such a program can bring to the members of a community while combatting some of the symptoms of poverty.

As Konstantinos Papaloukas, Managing Partner of EuroHoops, an integral partner and benefactor of the academy, said in a statement, “With the Initiative of AntetokounmBros Academy we give opportunities to children to change their lives and fight for their dreams.”

From sharing a pair of basketball shoes with all four of his brothers to becoming a champion and Finals MVP just this last NBA season, the Greek Freak, together with his brothers, understands more than most about the burdens of circumstance and the incredible impact of help in every person’s life.

– John J. Lee
Photo: Unsplash

Charities in GreeceMore than a decade after the 2008 economic crisis, Greece retains high unemployment and poverty rates, especially compared to its EU neighbors. Of the 10 million people living in Greece, more than one-third of the population lives in poverty. Furthermore, Greece must manage an aging, ailing population that increases annually as refugees arrive. As a result, dismantling systemic poverty in Greece is a multi-front battle requiring a multifaceted response. Several charities in Greece aim to reduce poverty among Greece’s most vulnerable populations.

5 Charities in Greece

  1. Echo100Plus. In 2012, a group of mostly Austrian friends “with strong ties to Greece” founded Echo100Plus. Echo100Plus works to secure international aid to support Greece through a worsening social and economic crisis. The organization identifies and partners with local NGOs, then bolsters them with necessary resources, staff and funding. Currently, Echo100Plus is focusing on Greece’s growing refugee population, a group primarily made up of those fleeing civil war in Syria and other countries. Many refugees migrating to Europe make their way across the Aegean Sea, often traveling through Turkey to Greece. Refugees arrive on Greece’s islands in need of basic goods and services like food, shelter and clothes. Echo100Plus supports refugees on Greece’s islands by providing them with basic essentials.
  2. The Smile of the Child. This organization was “founded in 1995 by 10-year-old Andreas Giannopoulos,” with the mission to see every child smile by addressing many threats to the welfare of children, such as violence, health problems and poverty. The organization runs Day Care Homes where families living in poverty can receive services to fulfill “the basic needs of their children.” The organization also runs 15 support centers throughout the country that provide medical and psychological support and helps families secure their basic material needs. The Smile of the Child employs social workers and psychologists who specialize in helping families in poverty. The centers also aim to open communication between family members and teach parents how to take proper care of their children. The charity’s services are free to every child in Greece.
  3. Lifting Hands International. With a focus on providing aid and relief to refugees worldwide, Lifting Hands International started its first project in Northern Greece. Its refugee center, a “buzzing hive of education and healing,” operates only 100 meters from refugee camps in Serres, Greece. There, refugees can take classes in language, arts, music and more. The center also distributes aid like fresh fruits and vegetables and hygiene products. By giving refugees not only the necessary products for survival but the necessary skills to thrive, Lifting Hands International allows refugees to escape poverty in a new environment.
  4. ActionAid. An international organization with roots in Greece, ActionAid has been fighting poverty since 1972, working in and with communities to improve lives and livelihoods. In Greece, ActionAid provides dynamic teaching and weekly training programs to impoverished youth at aid centers in Athens and Thessaloniki. ActionAid also helps organize campaigns for women’s rights both in Greece and globally, putting pressure on Greek and global governments to make the political decisions necessary to elevate vulnerable populations out of poverty.
  5. Hellenic Hope. Another one of the charities in Greece is Hellenic Hope, which focuses on helping more than 686,000 Greek children living in poverty. It provides children with necessities like food, medicine, educational opportunities and emotional support. The charity sponsors several projects throughout Greece. For example, a partnership with the American Farm School gives underprivileged high school students in Northern Greece access to top-tier “educational and commercial activities.” Hellenic Hope also sponsors “medical and pharmaceutical support” to Greek children experiencing poverty through a program titled Filoi tou Paidiou that provides care and assistance to uninsured children and families.

Overall, these charities in Greece show a commitment to helping impoverished Greeks in several crucial aspects, enabling disadvantaged citizens to rise out of poverty.

Zoe Tzanis
Photo: Flickr

Greek and Cypriot povertyAfter decades of economic struggle, which the pandemic and COVID-related restrictions exacerbated, Greece and Cyprus are optimistic about their economic futures. In 2019, both countries’ economies were in grim states. In Cyprus, 15.3% of the population was at risk of poverty as of 2020, a marginal rise from the previous year. Meanwhile, 30% of Greece’s population was at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2020. Amid all the pessimism, however, there are reasons to have a bright outlook for the future of Greek and Cypriot poverty reduction.

EU Funding

Massive pandemic relief packages stemming from the EU budget have already allowed a solid recovery for Greece and Cyprus. In June 2021, the EU approved a recovery plan worth €30.5 billion for Greece. According to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the plan “will help Greece build a better future.” The recovery plan could spur Greek economic growth by 7% within the next six years, giving people a reason to be optimistic about the future of Greece’s economy.

In Cyprus, the €1.2 billion that Greece secured from the EU Recovery and Resilience Program and €1.8 billion from the EU’s Structural and Investment Funds form part of the Cypriot president’s self-described “ambitious” recovery plan. The massive cash influx will help add at least 11,000 new jobs, a significant number for a country with a population of around 875,000. In addition, it will help Cyprus reverse course from the continuous austerity its government has implemented in recent years, which has proven counterproductive in the fight against poverty. These two gigantic pandemic relief packages from the EU will allow a bright future for Greek and Cypriot poverty reduction.

Optimistic Economic Growth Projections

Another major reason for optimism about Greek and Cypriot poverty rates is the countries’ economic growth projections. Despite the pandemic significantly shrinking both nations’ economies, economic growth projections for upcoming quarters and years are notably better than expected.

In Greece, for example, after a fantastic 4.4% rise in GDP in the first quarter of 2021 despite the COVID-related restrictions that were in place for almost the entire quarter, the EU Commission has released a favorable economic forecast for Greece for the remainder of 2021 as well as for 2022. It expects Greece’s GDP to grow by 4.3% in 2021 and 6% in 2022. Cyprus’s economy also appears poised to bounce back phenomenally from its shrinkage. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has said that the EU’s relief plan will enable a 7% increase in GDP over the next five years.

Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

alleviate Elderly Poverty in GreeceIn December 2020, Trade Economics reported that 13.20% of Greeks older than 65 are vulnerable to poverty. Poor economic conditions in Greece during the past decade resulted in declining wages for citizens in their early 50s. Many believed they would be in a better financial situation by retiring early, especially since pension benefits for Greeks are higher than in other EU member countries. However, elderly poverty in Greece is on the rise. According to Reuters, Greece has a larger older population, and therefore, a rise in early retirements hurt its economy. As a result, the government reduced retirement benefits to help keep people in the workforce for longer. However, the reduction in retirement benefits and additional taxes imposed contributed to higher elderly poverty rates. Organizations aim to alleviate elderly poverty in Greece.

Efforts to Alleviate Elderly Poverty in Greece

In The Guardian, Jon Henley reported in 2015 that 45% of retired Greek senior citizens lived in poverty. Unemployment rates were high among the older and younger populations. Therefore, many elderly citizens had to contribute to their family finances, which negatively impacted their own finances. According to The National Herald, 75% of retired Greeks struggled to pay for food and afford medical expenses in 2017.

Desmos, a nonprofit organization, helped provide financial aid, including food, to those experiencing elderly poverty in Greece. As of 2018, Desmos was able to assist 2,000 older people and provide charities with other essentials to help more people. That same year, Trading Economics announced that the elderly poverty rates in Greece were at 11.6%. This is its lowest rate in the past decade.

Programs Assisting Those in Need

Other organizations and the government have stepped in to help alleviate elderly poverty in Greece. In her article for the Huffington Post, Danae Leivada introduced Life Line, a nonprofit offering food services to those experiencing elderly poverty in Greece. Life Line began assisting elderly citizens in 2011 and has been able to serve up to 900 people a month. Life Line includes a service operating 24 hours a day to those who are in urgent need of food.

Leivada introduced another NGO called 50+, which relies on funding from the EU and has been operating since 2005. This organization advocates for the rights of senior citizens. It also provided resources to help them become more active in society. In addition, 50+ also advocates for a domestic policy to address and prevent elderly poverty.

Pension Issues

According to the European Neighborhood Instrument Cross-Border Cooperation Med Program (ENI CBC MED), the government offers financial aid to senior citizens that do not receive pension benefits or insurance and have a financial need. The financial aid also includes assistance with rent to those who cannot afford housing. Also, the Department of Social Insurance and Control offers financial assistance to those with underlying health conditions.

The ENI CBC MED indicated that retired citizens who are 67 and older and previously worked in the agriculture industry can receive a pension from the Agricultural Insurance Organization (OGA). OGA has provided pensions since 1961 but has changed eligibility requirements on numerous occasions. The current requirements are that senior citizens must show that they have a financial need and do not have insurance.

The ENI CBC MED mentioned that the state does not provide financial assistance to elderly care centers. However, the state has two public programs that provide services to senior citizens. One of these programs offers facilities that operate as an elderly daycare, looking after the older population and assisting them with their needs.

Taking Back Their Pensions

According to Pension Funds Online, the retirement benefits Greeks receive depend on whether they worked for the government, private companies or freelanced. The benefits senior citizens can currently obtain are a contribution rate and an additional pension. The Associated Press reported that the government initially intended to continue reducing the number of retirement benefits beginning in 2019 to focus on paying off its debt but decided not to do so.

ABC News stated that in July 2020, many retired Greeks took the matter to a higher court. The court evaluated whether the 2015 government reduction of retirement benefits was legal. The court ultimately determined that the pension benefit cuts were unconstitutional because the government did not use the appropriate legislative process necessary to implement such measures.

The court even determined that the government needed to reimburse citizens for the reduced pension benefits, but did not indicate whether all retired Greeks or just the appealers of the case would receive the money back. The government shared that it would evaluate the court’s decision before deciding how it would reimburse benefits.

The Effect of COVID-19

According to the ENI CBC MED, Greece went on lockdown for the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, various organizations created online systems to help look after the elderly. These organizations also allowed senior citizens to call when in need of food and medicine.

According to Reuters, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that Greece’s strong response to COVID-19 helped put the country in better financial standing in 2021. The IMF also projects that Greece may experience further economic growth in 2021.

The Greek government has implemented public programs and measures to help alleviate elderly poverty in Greece. Greece’s recent economic recovery and the court’s decision to uphold rights to pension benefits serve as indicators that things could continue to improve, both for senior citizens and Greece as a whole.

Cristina Velaz
Photo: Flickr

Greece's Refugee COVID-19 VaccinationAfter much delay, the Greek government has finally rolled out a concrete plan for vaccinating an estimated 60,000 migrants and refugees within its borders. Announced on June 3, 2021, Greece’s refugee COVID-19 vaccination campaign will use Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine to begin inoculating more than 11,000 asylum seekers on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos.

Greece’s Refugee COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the center-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for failing to make refugees a priority during the country’s vaccine rollout. Mitsotakis’s administration pledged to make refugees eligible for vaccines, but until this recent announcement, the national vaccination campaign had largely sidestepped Greece’s large migrant population.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and others have called the country’s “Greeks-first” policy discriminatory and misguided. Organizations argue that inhabitants of refugee camps are far more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general population due to overcrowding, limited space and lack of access to proper sanitation facilities. Another point of argument is that stopping the spread of COVID-19 within these vulnerable populations can limit transmission in the rest of society, ultimately benefiting the whole country.

Refugees in Greece

The tension between refugee advocates and the Greek government began long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Greece is one of the most popular routes for migration into Europe from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. After crossing from Turkey, migrants often end up in Greece waiting for their asylum claims to process.

Resentment between Greek citizens and migrants has been steadily rising over the years and the Mitsotakis government has adopted an increasingly tough stance on illegal migration that has come under fire from human rights organizations.

Multiple groups have accused the government of illegally returning asylum seekers to Turkey or leaving them adrift at sea rather than processing them through official asylum channels. One particularly startling accusation claimed that “13 men, women and children currently residing in a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos were beaten, robbed and forced onto a life raft” by uniformed officials who claimed the group required COVID-19 testing. The Greek government has denied these allegations but humanitarian groups still stand strong in protecting the human rights of migrants and refugees.

Vaccination Challenges for Refugees

Mistrust could hamper Greece’s refugee vaccination campaign. According to officials, only about 15% of asylum seekers in Greece have expressed interest in receiving a vaccine, although the number may increase as the campaign gets underway. Across the globe, many refugees fear that registering with a government vaccination platform could lead to arrest, detention or even deportation. Others fall prey to misinformation or encounter language and digital access barriers.

However, the main reason for limited global refugee vaccinations so far is the dramatic difference in vaccine supply between wealthy and low-income nations. Wealthier countries account for 85% of the world’s administered vaccines yet “85% of the 26 million refugees in the world are hosted in developing countries.” A recent contributing factor to limited vaccine access relates to COVAX, the vaccine initiative providing COVID-19 vaccines to low-income nations. Due to supply issues, expectations determined that COVAX would distribute 190 million fewer doses than originally anticipated by the end of June 2021.

Reasons for Hope

Although the road to refugee vaccination in Greece has been bumpy, the newly announced campaign is still a positive first step toward providing the country’s vulnerable migrant population with access to COVID-19 vaccines. There are also signs from around the globe that refugees will soon be able to receive vaccines in far greater numbers.

As of May 2021, 54 countries have started vaccinating refugees and 150 countries have said either publicly or privately that they will include refugees in their vaccine campaigns. Jordan’s campaign, in particular, has had a strong start. The country was the first in the world to include refugees in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. By the end of May 2021, 30% of Jordan’s refugees had received at least one vaccine dose.

International health officials are optimistic that the vaccine inequality between upper and lower-income nations will soon decrease. In June 2021, the United States announced that it would be donating 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccines to “92 low- and lower-middle-income countries and the African Union” through COVAX. Recent positive efficacy results from the Novavax vaccine should boost global supply even further. Overall, hope is on the horizon as the world comes together in a collaborative effort toward combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jackson Fitzsimmons
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on poverty in greece
Over the past two decades, Greece has suffered significant economic and social upheaval. After an economic depression and an ongoing refugee crisis, the country now faces a new threat: the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Greece. The country’s crisis-prompted grassroots culture provides support during another economic setback.

The Economic Crisis in Greece

Following the global financial crisis in 2008, Greece found itself in extreme debt to lenders, specifically Germany and the European Union, forcing Greece to adhere to strict austerity measures such as cutting pensions and increasing taxes. During this period of austerity, Greece’s economy shrank, unemployment rose and poverty soared. In 2017, one-third of the Greek population lived below the poverty line and the unemployment rate was 22%.

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Greece

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece’s economy experienced a period of significant recovery and GDP was on the rise. However, Greece fell into another recession due to the economic fallout in 2020 prompted by COVID-19. As schools closed, businesses shut down and economic activity came to a halt, unemployment and poverty rose substantially.

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission estimated that 30% of people in Greece were “at risk of poverty or social exclusion.” While 2020 data has not yet been analyzed, it is clear that the pandemic sent shock waves through Greece’s slowly recovering economy.

According to an MDPI survey conducted across Greek cities just after the country’s lockdown period in May 2020, 73.3% of respondents said that lockdowns and restrictions significantly impacted them financially. Furthermore, about 9% of respondents experienced job losses and 18.6% received suspensions from work due to the implications of COVID-19.

Migrant workers feel the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Greece acutely. While most migrant workers are from Albania, others hail from countries like Bangladesh. With government restrictions and limitations on exports, the need for export labor has decreased and earning a daily wage has become increasingly difficult for these workers. In 2020, the unemployment rate stood at 16.85%. Greece currently holds the highest unemployment rate in the E.U.

Grassroots Efforts During COVID-19

While COVID-19 has worsened conditions for the country’s most vulnerable, Greece’s experience with past crises has paved the way for a strong grassroots response. Organizations like the ANKAA Project and O Allos Anthropos are fighting to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Greece. Both founded in the wake of previous crises, the organizations have redirected efforts to help with the COVID-19 crisis in Greece.

The ANKAA Project is a nonprofit organization that began in 2017 to address unemployment in Greece. The organization provides language lessons and vocational skills training to refugees, migrants and unemployed Greek citizens. By equipping people with the necessary skills for employment, the ANKAA Project addresses poverty in Greece. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization transformed its Athens facilities into mask-making workshops. Since the pandemic began, the organization has provided thousands of masks to hospitals and refugee camps in need.

O Allos Anthropos

O Allos Anthropos is “a community soup kitchen in the Kerameikos neighborhood of Athens, Greece.” The organization began in 2011 to help those suffering from homelessness and hunger after the 2010 Greek debt crisis. Before the pandemic hit, the government and local organizations assisted struggling households with meals and food packages.

In mid-March 2020, COVID-19 restrictions meant this assistance came to a halt. O Allos Anthropos was the only organization still providing food assistance. The organization had to rapidly expand its efforts, mobilizing to increase meals from 200 to 2,000 per day. Other humanitarian groups stepped in to assist so that thousands of food packages could be provided across Athens.

While Greece has faced several social and economic disasters over the past decade, the country’s crisis-prompted grassroots culture helps to relieve the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Greece today.

– Zoe Tzanis
Photo: Unsplash

Elderly Poverty in Greece
Elderly poverty in Greece is growing at an alarming rate. The government has been unable to address this issue. As a result, nonprofits are stepping up to alleviate some of the burdens carried by the elderly. Here are eight facts about elderly poverty in Greece.

8 Facts About Elderly Poverty in Greece

  1. Austerity Measures on Relief: Recent government measures in the past two decades have resulted in lower pensions for senior citizens. Pensions greater than 1,000 euros became continuously cut throughout the years, with pension bonuses completely removed from government-provided relief. This has led to serious challenges for seniors. Many had retired or were close to retiring when these changes were implemented. As a result, there was no time for seniors to adjust their savings plans or extend their careers.
  2. Poverty Often Increases with Age: Seniors above the age of 75 are more likely to experience poverty than seniors ages 55 to 75. This is often due to health issues and medical expenses. Additionally, for many seniors, retirement savings are difficult. For individuals who are already struggling with poverty or who are living frugally, there is little room for retirement savings. Those who do save for retirement do not end up saving enough to live in an increasingly expensive world. When health issues also arise, they create unexpected medical bills that may not be covered completely by health insurance. In some cases, seniors do not even have health insurance to help with financial burdens.
  3. Lack of Immediate Support: Most seniors don’t have years to wait for policy change or government action to address poverty; they require assistance immediately. Finding the funding and resources to do this requires more than just government attention or even NGO attention. The issue can only be solved by joint action by the government, NGOs and other global poverty organizations.
  4. Increased Cost of Living: Most households calculate the absolute least amount they have to spend per month to be near 1,500 euros. Unfortunately, this is quantified as higher than what the government considers “extreme poverty.” As a result, there are many in the elderly population that need food assistance and other forms of relief but do not qualify. To solve this problem, the government must re-evaluate its criteria for aid.
  5. Rising Healthcare Costs: As seniors age, many begin to face health issues. Some possess health insurance; however, this does not guarantee that there will be no costs. Rather, it subsidizes some costs. Seniors face the challenges of affording medicines, treatments, hospital visits and routine checkups to keep up with physical health. Furthermore, seniors are more likely to undergo medical tests for symptoms that could be suggestive of other issues due to their age. This means potentially ordering numerous expensive tests that don’t lead to a diagnosis.
  6. The Need for Increased Pensions: Increased pensions will most directly help reduce elderly poverty in Greece. The current amount the elderly in Greece receive from their pensions is too low for a secure standard of living. The Greek government has tried to address this issue many times but has yet to find a successful plan in altering the pension. Instead, pension benefits have been cut, value-added tax has not been raised and the entire issue has been swept under the rug.
  7. Government Struggles: Greece has had difficulties figuring out how to address elderly poverty in Greece. The country currently spends more than any other European country on economic output on retirement funds. Unfortunately, this has been not enough, as the issue goes past just monetary funds. The government should focus on creating support systems for elders and providing better access to affordable healthcare in order to decrease expenses.
  8. Nonprofit Efforts: A prominent nonprofit that has been making strides in addressing elderly poverty in Greece is Caritas Hellas. This organization addresses poverty in Greece, but it has also been successful in helping alleviate some of the burdens of the elderly population. The organization distributes food and clothes and provides services of counseling and educational support to around 300 individuals. Furthermore, the organization works on strengthening family links to set up a lasting support system for the elderly.

The Way Forward

Only after substantive institutional changes have been made will the issue of elderly poverty in Greece decrease. Government officials should work in collaboration with nonprofits in order to address the needs of the elderly and set up long-lasting systems of support and aid to reduce the number of those suffering from poverty.

– Manasi Singh
Photo: Flickr