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 E.U. budget have already allowed a solid recovery for Greece and Cyprus.

In June 2021, the E.U. approved a recovery plan worth 30.5 billion euros for Greece. According to E.U. 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 euros that Greece secured from the E.U. Recovery and Resilience Program and 1.8 billion euros from the E.U.’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 E.U. 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 E.U. 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 E.U.’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

How Substance Abuse Impacts Homeless in GreeceDue to a recession in the early 2000s and as a result of austerity measures in the mid-2000s, there has been a prominent drug problem among the homeless in Greece. The recession that hit the Greek economy led to significant depression among its citizens, and a rise in drug and alcohol abuse. The government even cut social programs for homeless people battling addictions. This led to an increase in police involvement resulting in mistreatment by law enforcement.

Economic Despair

As Greeks struggled to survive, many turned to substance abuse. In 2019, 55% of drug users seeking assistance were heroin addicts. However, although a majority of addicts were using heroin and marijuana, some were using a drug called shisha. The Guardian newspaper describes shisha as a drug containing meth-like qualities when mixed with other substances. It became popular when drug dealers began providing low-quality versions of the drug for extremely low prices. One hit of shisha only cost two euros.

The high addiction rates to shisha combined with lack of employment opportunities have led addicts to become more engaged in harmful and dangerous behaviors. A significant number of women have also resorted to prostitution as a way to finance their addictions. According to the Guardian, there has also been an increase in suicides, overdoses, HIV infections, Hepatitis C and pregnancies among the homeless in Greece.

A Personal Story of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

In conversation with The Borgen Project, Sue Silversmith, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor, said she has worked with Native Americans facing substance abuse and alcohol addiction throughout her entire career. As a social worker and licensed counselor, Silversmith has also worked together with indigenous groups fighting against substance and alcohol addictions. While funding and accessibility are a challenge, there are organizations available for those struggling with addictions. As one-quarter Navajo, Silversmith has a strong heritage and dedication to working with native tribes. She is passionate about her culture and how addiction is killing her people. Silversmith acknowledges the sadness of people dying from this disease but says that it motivates her to help those suffering from addiction.

While alcohol and substance abuse education are core components of Silversmith’s group sessions, she also discusses her own battle and recovery from alcohol abuse. Her personal story has allowed her to help many clients in their own recovery. Community and organizational support are key to individual recovery as well, particularly when clients don’t know how to advocate for themselves. She teaches her clients that alcoholism and substance abuse is physical, emotional and spiritual. She also emphasizes that addiction is often part of an individuals’ genetics and family heritage, which can be difficult to overcome. Silversmith uses a holistic approach in helping her clients combat addiction.

Kethea Fights Substance Abuse

As the homeless in Greece continue to struggle with substance abuse and addiction, organizations such as Kethea have taken action to address the growing problem. Kethea is a therapy center for drug addicts, providing rehabilitation services for people with cannabis, alcohol and gambling addictions. It also supports people facing problems with law enforcement and those looking to reintegrate into society. While Kethea provides services for various types of addictions, the main addictions it treats are heroin and opium. It has also recognized the need to expand services for alcoholism and gambling.

Kethea is the largest network of rehabilitation centers in Greece, not only offering services to addicts but also to their friends and family. It provides all services pro bono and these services are available in many sectors of society, including in prisons. After the government initially reduced funding for social programs during the recession, efforts are now emerging to re-implement and reform these programs. Despite widespread unemployment and poverty due to the economic crisis, organizations like Kethea offer hope for people struggling to overcome drug addictions and reintegrate into society.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid to Greece
The history of foreign aid to Greece dates back to the late 1940s and the Truman administration when the Marshall Plan underwent enactment. Although the Marshall Plan funding came to an end in 1951, the European nations collected almost $13 billion in aid. This money acquired shipments in fuel, food, machinery and more, creating investments in industrial capacity in Europe.

According to The George C. Marshall Foundation, between April 3, 1948, and June 30, 1952, the Marshall Plan provided grants to Greece in the amount of $706.7 million. Today, that would add over $69.7 million.

Council on Foreign Relations

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, in 1957, a common market-free area of trade emerged known as The Treaty of Rome. It led to the acceptance of Greece as the “10th member of the European Economic Community (EEC).”

The Council on Foreign Relations reported that in 1992, 12 member states of the ECC signed the Treaty of Maastricht forming the European Union (E.U.) and the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). This led to the 1999 Euro currency in existence today.

However, as the Council on Foreign Relations reported, in 1999 Greece could not adopt the Euro currency because it could not meet the economic rules that the Maastricht established. All members must meet the fiscal criteria. This means inflation has to be, “below 1.5 percent, a budget deficit below 3 percent, and a debit-to-GDP ratio below 60 percent.”

How Geography Affects Foreign Aid

The need for foreign aid to Greece continues due to its geographic location. Greece is a destination for refugees and asylum seekers. According to The Library of Congress LAW, the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the E.U. in 2011 found Greece was lacking in its ability to handle the influx of refugees. More reception centers are necessary to house them.

A plan proposal in 2010 led to more services for asylum seekers in Greece. Although the plan ultimately failed, some things underwent adoption such as Law 3907. It supplied more services such as appeals authority and first-line reception. In 2015, the influx of refugees overwhelmed Greece’s already inefficient system to fingerprint, register and house asylum seekers.

The humanitarian needs such as access to healthcare and education are great in reception centers for refugees. In 2016 the White House Press Secretary announced, “Since the start of Europe’s refugee crisis, the United States has contributed over $44 million in humanitarian aid through international organizations.”

Recent Actions

From 2014 to 2020, the Commission and European Union increased funding to Greece for asylum and immigration.

As a result, the Migration and Integration Fund provided Greece with €294.5 million (about $328 million). The Internal Security Fund – Borders and Visas presented €214.8 million (about $240 million). Another contribution under the European Refugee Fund was emergency funding of over €50.6 million Euros (about $56.5 million).

In 2019, the U.S. assisted Greece’s military when it signed a mutual defense cooperation agreement. The intention of this agreement is for the U.S. to spend on Greece’s military infrastructure.

The need to send foreign aid to Greece continues to grow especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Aljazeera reported, in September 2020, Greek authorities were still having trouble with overcrowding. It is still a struggle to house every migrant and refugee but with more funding, a change can hopefully occur.

– Kathleen Shepherd-Segura
Photo: Flickr

Asylum System in Greece
When an asylum seeker reaches Greece after spending an onerous period braving some of the harshest conditions the human experience has to offer, they frequently meet consternation. The country they arrive in submits people looking for a better life to an elaborate system that starves them of their rights as asylum seekers under the Geneva Convention. This inevitably devolves into situations that mirror gross human rights violations. These situations exacerbate what many of the people face in their home country: poverty. The Borgen Project spoke to migration specialist Margaux Cachera to better understand the asylum system in Greece and its effect on poverty.

How the Policy Changed

Cachera worked on Leros, a Greek Island in the southern Aegean sea. She worked in conjunction with a hotspot that serves as the first glimpse of Europe for some migrants. She insists the asylum system in Greece has intrinsic ties to Europe’s policy on migration, which is admittedly poor. “There’s the basic issue of European countries not following the rule of law regarding refugees. One of the main principles of international law is nonrefoulement, which they are violating. So they are infringing on a key principle of refugee law. They simply go around it.”

The process of refugee migration in Europe is as follows; every asylum seeker may submit an application for international protection once inside the boundaries of the asylum country. However, on the fringes of Europe, in places like Spain, Italy and Greece, they face more difficult migration problems than northern countries. They have also increasingly looked to tighten immigration laws and border controls. After years of loosely following international law, a 2016 agreement with Turkey changed everything about the asylum system in Greece.

The controversial legislation and agreement with Turkey ensured that refugees and asylum seekers could no longer travel to other European countries. They thus end up in a clogged system that does not want them. Programs to house, feed and integrate asylum seekers have since fallen into disrepair. Cachera contends that in the years since the agreement came into being, the asylum system in Greece has become a divisive political football. “Since then, there has been a shift to a more intense, right-wing government and this agreement has started to be more harshly applied – not that it wasn’t ever applied before – and they [refugees and asylum seekers] are now being put into detention camps at scarier rates.” The asylum system in Greece is now morphing from a process by which people integrate into society to a process by which they experience exclusion or imprisonment.

The Poverty Asylum Seekers Face

If one reaches a Greek island with the hopes of attaining asylum, they immediately face stark reality. Before the 2008 economic crisis in the country, migrants experienced greater employment than natives. The following years proved the opposite, with unemployment rates among refugees dropping at greater rates than natives.

This phenomenon does not apply to asylum seekers, who often cannot obtain employment due to a lack of legal standing in Greece. As a result, they must live in a kind of limbo – unable to be employed and unable to have their case heard. This has created an environment with “no stable electricity or running water, limited food and insufficient space for social distancing.”

Cachera highlights the paradox about the asylum system in Greece – often asylum seekers (those who have not yet received their refugee status) benefit from greater aid than those who have received official status but are soon to lose it if they receive the good news of refugee status. “Asylum seekers don’t face the kind of poverty that refugees do. They have a shelter – which is deplorable but a shelter nonetheless. They have food – daily meals. And a stipend.” It then becomes curious to figure out why the system does not aid in the integration of its new migrants.

Greek’s hostile position to NGOs that help asylum seekers and provide programs that grant emergency housing and cash assistance programs like ESTIA and HELIOS, which “subsidizes rent and independent housing for up to twelve months” for vulnerable refugees, essentially subjugates asylum seekers to unwanted and uncared for wards of the state. It perpetuates a kind of incomplete existence in which not even prisoners remain.

What this Means for the Future

The solution appears to be one of increased funding to systems that aid asylum seekers and refugees. This functions in addition to the restoration of eligibility periods for programs like ESTIA. Such programs provide housing and cash to newly arrived refugees. Greece must realign itself with the principle of nonrefoulement. It must also reconsider its agreement with Turkey, which amounts to a naked attempt to circumvent established rules of the Geneva Convention, the doctrine that employs itself to protect vulnerable asylum seekers.

Of course, poverty has intrinsic ties to the process. Amnesty International recognizes 1.4 million refugees who currently need resettlement out of the more than 70 million people who have experienced forcible displacement due to “conflict, persecution or natural disasters.” Developing countries host about 84% of these people, which does not include Greece. Without a 180 degree turn to restore dignity and material resources to those waiting for refugee status the system is bound for further disrepair.

Human rights advocates and migration specialists like Margaux Cachera often publicize shameful issues to garner attention for gross injustice. Questions about actionable solutions, though, often engender a bevy of good ideas. “How do you make camps better? Should camps exist at all? I guess we’re not trying to discuss revolution here but enabling people to have agency is key. That’s the whole thing…. Camps in the global north are so regimented to a certain extent that they don’t allow for a microeconomy… Personally, I think it’s crucial that people are allowed to cook by and for themselves if they want. Which can spawn local vendors. People then have money to buy food and cook for their families. Some form of normality in that form would create a more positive social impact inside the camps.”

Depending on our aims for humanity, the global community must understand and address the asylum system in Greece. This would not only benefit those inside the walls of refugee camps and hotspots but also impact global poverty.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in Greece
Child poverty in Greece is a prominent issue. About 40% of children under the age of 17 are at risk. According to Eurostat, Greece ranks at the top of the child poverty scale. Furthermore, Greece’s poverty rate is the third-highest within the European Union. This article will explore the state of child poverty in Greece and efforts to address it.

Education

The economic crisis in Greece is one of many reasons for the rising child poverty rate. Access to education has decreased as well. As a result, many children are unable to attend school and unemployment rates have skyrocketed.

State education is free until university in Greece and education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15. In spite of this, approximately 11.4% of students dropped out of school in 2010. Moreover, an average of 30,000 students never enter high school. The highest high school dropout rate is in the Dodecanese islands and Rhodope.

Child Abuse

Giorgio Nikolaidis is a child psychiatrist and head of the Mental Health Department of the Institute of Child Health. He stated that inadequate child protection services were further undercut long before the economic crisis. Authorities are often aware of domestic, sexual abuse against children; however, they do not take the correct measures to protect children.

“I have seen cases where four-year-old kids were treated for sexually transmitted rectal HPV for over a year and no investigation had been undertaken to determine how they got it,” Nikolaidis said. The reality is that there is no coherent system to effectively protect victims.

The Greek constitution prohibits forced labor, but the minimum age for work is as low as 12 for people working in a family business. Thus, families often send their children to the streets to beg for money. Although Greece ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, these activities remain unpunishable by law. Children who spend more time on the streets are also at an increased risk of child trafficking.

Together for Children

Together for Children is an NGO that provides assistance to young people and their families. The organization is comprised of nine member organizations that work in child welfare. Its mission is to provide immediate support for children, families and individuals with disabilities.

The organization established a child helpline that provides free counseling services and emotional support for children and their families. Together for Children strives to tackle child poverty in Greece and create sustainable living conditions. Additionally, the organization ensures access to free education through various programs such as a nursery school for children with cerebral palsy, a development playgroup for children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities, a special primary school for children with cerebral palsy and productive workshops for adults with cerebral palsy. Together for Children also has activities and programs to support unaccompanied minors who are refugees.

Assisting more than 30,000 children every year, Together for Children has received the Silver Medal of the Academy of Athens for its social contribution. In 2019, it also received a BRAVO Award for engaging with thousands of citizens in support of its initiative: Equal Opportunities for Children: Actions for Health and Education in Remote Areas of Greece.

Looking Forward

Organizations like Together for Children help create a better society for children to flourish. It focuses on improving the health and well-being of impoverished children, creating opportunities for quality education and supporting refugees. This organization has taken great strides in alleviating child poverty in Greece.

Poverty in Greece remains high due to the lack of education, child abuse and labor exploitation. Sexual and labor exploitation impoverishes children mentally and physically. Although the Greek financial crisis is often blamed for inadequate social services, there is much more that the country should be doing to protect children. Moving foward, it is essential that the government and other humanitarian organizations prioritize addressing child poverty in Greece.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr