Third Greek exodus in 100 years

Third Greek exodus in 100 years

It was early October 2010. A Greek student in her final year in Media Studies had come to visit me in my office. She had originally come to Turkey as a second year exchange student but took the decision to stay on in order to complete her studies in our university. We talked about her future. She told me she was not planning to return to Greece. Instead she was going to try for a post-graduate degree from a Turkish university and then she “would not mind staying in Turkey further if there were job opportunities.”

She was not a unique case. At that time she was among several hundreds of Greeks – and some Greek-Cypriots - who had chosen Turkey for their university studies. According to OECD data, in 2009 more than 50,000 Greek students were studying abroad, mainly in Europe, of which a 2.5 percent were coming to Turkey. 

I thought it was an interesting subject to write about - my personal observation of a creeping trend among Greek students who seem to not want to return to their country after studying abroad. Still, that article landed me in a lot of trouble - though not because of the statistical data it used, which was official and not contestable.

2010 was a year of turmoil in Greece. The election of the George Papandreou government in 2009 in the midst of a world economic crisis coincided with shocking revelations about the dismal state of the Greek economy. Greece became the first deeply indebted country in the eurozone to be placed under a support mechanism and tied by subsequent bail-out arrangements and harsh austerity measures. Six years later, very little has changed. 

Although the shock to society from the financial collapse was then too fresh to digest and most Greeks did not feel the shock. “The disastrous economic crisis that has been hitting Greece since last year has added new parameters in the way young Greeks are planning their future,” I wrote. “The extreme instability in the job market and the uncertain political and economic future in Greece have made many young people ready to emigrate in order not only to further their studies but also to settle abroad. Now, younger people and graduates of middle education are thinking seriously of emigrating to countries like Britain, Germany, France or the U.S. in order to complete their education and to continue with building a career in their country of choice.”

After that article, I received a rather harsh email addressing me as “Dear Madame” from a high official in the Greek Ministry of Education. It accused me of trying to create a “false picture of the situation.” 

So I felt somewhat vindicated – unfortunately - after the publication last week of a thorough scientific report by the Bank of Greece entitled “Drain of Human Capital: The Contemporary Migratory Trend of Greeks During the Crisis Years.” 

The author of the report, Mrs. Sofia Lazaretou, thinks “migration and poverty are the two most painful consequences that a society experiences in conditions of prolonged crisis.” According to the report, from 2008 until today, over 427,000 Greeks between the ages 15-64 have left their country to seek a better future abroad. In 2013 alone, more than 100,000 people left Greece, a figure three times higher than the previous five years. The phenomenon continued with the same intensity in 2014 and increased in the first half of 2015. The trend is likely to continue.

The report states that Greece experienced the phenomenon of mass migration three times in the past 100 years. All three lasted around a decade: 1903 to 1917, 1960 to 1972, and 2010 to today. 

What makes the present exodus much more costly for society is that while the first two migrations involved the poorly educated unskilled population, the present Greek migrants are young and highly-educated with professional experience, heading to Germany, the U.K. and UAE. In 2013 alone, the Greeks who left the country amounted to more than 2 percent of the country’s total working force.

The report concludes with a number of proposals to prevent the flow and create local incentives to keep young people at home. The problem is that the prerequisite remains political stability and fairness in working ethics, which is really difficult to achieve nowadays.