The financial crisis in Greece has turned thousands of Greeks into immigrants. According to a report in The Brooklyn Ink, men and women of all ages and educational background are fleeing the record 27 percent unemployment rate in the country and many are landing on American shores.
Dimitris Kokotos, 50, is one such victim who is now helping in his cousin’s restaurant on Coney Island’s boardwalk in Brooklyn. He left Greece last November, after income from his small pastry shop in Athens became insufficient to pay the everyday expenses of his 15-year-old twins and wife.
“I sat down with my wife and told her, ‘there are two options. Either we let the bank take everything we own or we do something radical’,” he says.
Reliable data about new immigrants from Greece to the U.S. is not available. However, reports published in other countries give a fair idea of the extent of the flight.
According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, the number of Greek immigrants to Germany rose by 90 percent reaching 23,800 in 2012. In April 2012, a spokesman for the Greek embassy in London, UK, told the national Greek newspaper To Vima that the embassy received a record number of 300,000 emails asking for information on immigration to the UK. Similarly, studyportals.eu, the EU’s centralized educational site, reported that in 2012 the number of Greek students that expressed interest in studies abroad rose by 162 percent.
The International Monetary Fund says Greece’s gross domestic product contracted by 6 percent in 2012. With minimum monthly wage for employees under 25 at a meager 510 euros ($663) before taxes, unemployment among the country’s youth is rampant, reaching a staggering 61.7 percent in February. Many are going overseas in search of financial independence.
According to Greek architect engineer Eleni Takou, 28, who works as a project engineer at a New York construction firm, after receiving a quality education, Greek youth enter the job market to perform mundane tasks “for a beggarly salary.”
“It feels like they are taking away our reason to live. We have to choose between feeling depressed in Greece or homesick in another country,” she adds.
Such is also the plight of many middle-aged Greek immigrants who are forced to work in the U.S. to support their struggling families back home. Greek-American businessman Nikos Karadimas relocated to Athens with his wife and two children after selling his New York restaurant in 2007. Six years later and after losing his initial investment in the eatery, Karadimas is back in the city. He works at his cousin’s restaurant while his family stays behind in Athens.
“I love my country but I cannot afford to live there while my children are still in college,” Karadimas says. “My dream is to go back to Greece as a pensioner and never leave.”
Being away from his family is the most onerous part of immigration for Kokotos too. “It is hard,” he says, gazing at Coney Island’s beach, which reminds him of the Athenian seafront. “I had to change my entire life and start from scratch. I don’t know what to tell my kids. They miss me; and this is not their fault.”