Monday, 31 August 2009

Human trafficking in Greece - big money.

The whole problem of human trafficking in Greece is a difficult one. Just yesterday I reported on the criticism of the UNCHR about the conditions in which illegal immgrants were being housed on the island of Lesbos. But Greece is in no easy position when you discover that it is often immigrants themselves who are organising the human trafficking. Over the weekend two groups were arrested in Athens, three Iranians who were extorting over Euro 10 000 from 19 immigrants for the promise of getting them illegal papers to enter Germany. In another instance two Pakastanis were arrested for holding illegal immigrants against their will and demanding a total of 19 000 Euro from each.
In my opinion all that the Greek authorities can do is come down very hard upon such traffickers be they Greek or foreign. I would advocate immediate extradition to their native countries with no hope of ever applying for legal entry to this country. Only such draconian means are going to put these people off the idea of making money from their fellow countrymen's misfortune.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Greece again criticised for the treatment of illegal immigrants

Sorry to harp on but Greece is part of Europe and is signatory to all UN treaties and is such is a member of UNHCR - the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. As I mentionedt in earlier posts, Greece has a difficult geographical situation when it comes to stopping illegal immigration on account of the long sea border which skirts the Turkish coast. The  island of Lesbos, also close to the coast, receives many hundreds of illegal immigrants from mainly the Middle East each year.
Now after an inspection of the reception centre for illegal immigrants pn the island, a UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic , has strongly condemned the conditions under which these immigrants are being held, calling them "unacceptable".
The UNHCR spokesman points out that up to 100 woman and 50 babies are being housed in one room in the Centre and many of them have become ill on account of the cramped conditions.
Is Greece and its politicans too busy worrying about winning the next elections than to care about being constantly in international headlines on account of not being able to provide even the most modest of living conditions for those who come here with nothing?

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Greek political tensions - a rock and a hard place

Prime Minister Karamanlis has no easy task at present. Apparently the opinion polls show that should he call an early election it woud be the death of New Democracy. PASOKhas threatened to force an election in march by opposing the re-election of the Greek President. Now the ruling party could be facing a split. High levels ministers are giving contradictory advise oon whether to go for elections now or wait.
Obviously the handling of the outbreak of forest fires around Athens last week-end has not helped New Democracy's chances. There are many questions arising on how the fires managed to spread to the outskirts of Athens so quickly and today it is being reported that incendiary devices have been found in the forest near Grammatiko north of Athens where th fires started. Talks of a cabinet reshuffle still remain rumour as Karamanlis may try and sit it out until the annual PM's speech at the opening of the Thessaloniki trade fair when the ruling party outlines the government strategy for the coming year. But the dire economic situation of Greece may dictate action in the end. We will see what happens in the ocming two weeks.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Turning up the political heat in Greece

More and more questions are arising as to how long the country is going to continue without elections in the wake of the disastrous fires around Athens last week-end. Why,  for example, does Greece spend Euro 5 million/year of tax payers money renting water-dumping helicopters from a company in the US and a company in Russia when it has the largest fleet of water-dumping aircraft in Europe? Equally, why were the Greek Air Force helicopters not in a position to help in such a serious situation. Kostas Karamanlis now seems to be keeping his head low but rumours are the heads of a number of ministers may roll - including the interior minister and the New Democracy spokesman for his handling on the media last week-end.
Earlier in the week it looked as if Karamanlis was digging in his heels and would make no announcement of a cabinet reshuffle before his speech at the opening of the Thesslaloniki Trade Fair at the beginning of September. Now, though, it seems that the political damage of the handling of the fires  - amidst growing rumours that it was all well organised by greedy property developers in need of land to expand upon. - may force the Prime Minister to be seen to take some constructive action as soon as possible to minimize the damage to the party  - otherwise it could be his head on the block.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Where now Greece?

The political Greek air is full of predictions as the summer ends. New Democracy is not in a strong position with a one seat majority in parliament ahead of PASOK and a row of scandals - the latest being that high ranking officials took bribes form Siemens in return for awarding contracts to the company. Now the recent fires of last week-end would also seem t show that nothing was learned from the dreadul fires of 2007 when 70 people died.
Every year the government uses the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair to outline its policies for the coming year. This takes place at the beginning of September and here there are questions if after this New Democracy will call for snap elections, will reshuffle to give a cosmetic improvement to its track record or wait until next March for new elections.
The country is also feeling the brunt of the economic crisis, tourism has done badly in 2009 with revenue down by some 17% over 2008. All these facts seem to create feeling that it is timte for a political change in the country.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Athens - fire situation improves

Monday has seen an overall improvement in the situation due mainly to a lessening of what were on Sunday near gale force winds. Fire authorities and government officials now claim that they are getting on top of the situation. On Sunday over 10 000 residents were evacuated from the Athens suburb of Agios Stefanos as the fires approached residential areas.
Although there has as yet been no loss of human life the impact to the environment is a disaster of immense proportions. Over 30 000 acres, mainly forest, have been destroyed. The air in the city is filled with smoke and in coming years the city will certainly suffer the consequences of this destruction, which comes on top of the terrible fires of 2007.

This time, as in the past, there have been recriminations that the fires were started by those eager to develop land for residential purposes close to the already crowded Athens. The communist party has described the events of the week-end has a well-organised plan to make new building land available.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

S.O.S. Greece is in flames

Forest fires which started to the north and east of Athens on Friday are now out of control. Winds of up to 8 Beaufort, tinder dry forests and high summer temperatures have left the fire services unable to cope with the number and strength of the fires. At present some 83 different fires are blazing in the country and in the northern suburns of Athens, Pendeli, some 10 thousand residents have been evacuated from there homes.
The media are already talking of the worst environmental disaster ever, surpassing even the horrendous fires of summer 2007 when 70 people died and some 6% of the nation's woodlands were devasted. The situation currently looks like it will deteriorate as winds of 6-7 Beaufort are expected on Monday. The smoke and high winds are making the situation extremely difficult for the fire services and when darkness comes this evening the aircraft and helicopters will be forced to stop ditching water on the blazing forests. The areas around Athens in immediate danger are Varnavas, Grammatiko, Marathon, Peneli, Drafi, Pikermion and Pallini. A state of emergency has been declared in the area.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Loans - nope just take the money!

Quite an expensive week for Greek banks and municipal authorities. Times are hard with the economic crisis and all that so why not just take the money where you find it. Loans are such a pain - first of all all that paper work and then having to pay it back again. So troublesome. Banks, for example, are a good bet as they seem to have a lot of money. This week I counted in the press no less than 5 bank robberies in Greece. Just walk in with a mask and a gun and ask them to hand over the loot. Seems to work a treat and not a bad wage if you can net Euro 100k a day.
OK, if you are not into banks then you can also try local petrol service stations. Firstly they take quite a lot of money so go in the evening. Secondly, they also have the added advantage that security is not what it is in the banks so choose one in an isolated area. Must be worth a few thousand.
Last and not least - and this really takes the biscuit! - try your local town hall. They are never short of a bob or two when you consider the amount of taxes we pay. Just yesterday robbers broke into the municipal buildings in Pygetos near larissa in Central Greece. They couldn't open the half ton safe containing Euro 85 000 so they took it with them. Transport wasn't a problem. They just borrowed one of the municipal trucks standing behind the building.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Living cheaply in Greece

One aspect of Greek life which never seems to change is the weekly "Laiki" or street market. In every town and city they take place once a week, in larger cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki each district has its street market on a different day of the week. Where I live Friday is market day. From early morning the street is closed to traffic and the farmers and vendors pour in from the country to sell mainly fruit and vegetables. The atmosphere is terrific and the vendors compete among themselves for customers. The earlier you go the better and fresher the choice of goods, the later you go - they stop by 3 p.m. at the latest - the better the chances you have of them lowering their prices.
The street market has a long tradition and today you will see the black clad grandmothers with their little trolleys buying massive amounts of fruit and vegetables. This is because they are shopping not just for themselves but for the whole extended family. So 5 kilos of tomatoes and 10 kilos of potatoes is understandble. Of course, the sensible thing to do is to buy what is in season - now in August it is grapes, peaches, tomatoes, peppers. This is not the time of year to buy broccoli or Brussels sprouts and you would not find them anyway at the street market. You can really live cleaply and pay a minimum for foodstuffs if you shop this way. In summer the tomatoes and peaches, for example, cost next to nothing. And in true Greek fashion you can sample everything before you buy it.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Greek - Turkish relations will they ever improve?

It is hard to believe that anything will ever change in the state of relations between Greece and its neighbour Turkey. Not hard either to see why. Do not forget Greece was under Turkish domination for almost five hundred years. There is little or no trust between the two peoples.
Add to this the problem of Cyprus where no solution is in sight. The northen part of the island belongs to Turkey since its occupation and the southern part is an independent country and a member of the Euroepan Union. No other countries, however, recognises northern Cyrpus as a country.
Here in Greece we get used to the daily reports of the Turkish airforce deliberately invading Greek airspace. Now we hear that Turkey has decided to start looking for oil reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean just off the coast of Northern Cyprus.
Secretly we all know that one of the major issues between the two countries is the reserves of oil that lie beneath the Aegean Sea and who can lay claim to these. However, one would think in the interests of Turkey wanting to become a member of the European Union in the foreseeable future it might be a good idea to at least try and improve relations with Greece. One thing is clear - without Greek approval Turkey will never be a member of the European Union.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Greece - warning: jobs don't exist

While for the most part Greece seems to be into quite a lot of back-slapping in that the economic crisis which has hit the rest of Europe so severely does not seem to have had such a devastating effect on the Greek economy. Perhaps the worst is still to come. I take the example of a friend, she is in her early 40's and has been looking for a job for the past 12 months. Of Greek nationality she speaks English and German perfectly as she was brought up in Germany. Her current job chances in Greece - zero. Why? Basically too old and experienced to fill jobs that can be filled by 20 year olds on a much smaller salary.
Her alternatives? The most feasible alternative in Greece is to work for yourself and not for other people. Working as an employee the going monthly salary here is currently well below Euro 1000. So set up your own business. Although this is a nightmare for Greeks let alone foreigners it is still possible and take some time and running around to fill in the necessary myriad forms and get the licences - but it is still possible.
Next question is what sort of business? Good question. In my view the service industries will never disappear, the hair stylists and manicure shops will always exist. So wll the drycleaners. Forget coffee shops or restaurants as the competition at least in the towns and cities in very very stiff and many of these small places are going to the wall.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Something has to change in Greece ....

This morning I had to go to the local tax office to get a piece of paper as proof that I had a tax number in this country. This tax number you need for everything in Greece from the cradle to the grave. Although on this occasion I cannot complain about the queues or the behaviour of the civil servants, one thing did cross my mind this morning - the number of people I engaged in obtaining what is a relatively simple piece of paper.
When entering I enquired and was told to fill in a form - which I did after being directed to another office where two clerks helped me fill in the form. Having filled this in I had then to change offices, buildings and even streets(!) to have one of their colleagues put a protocol number at the top of the form. In the meantime I had to run and photocopy my passport - althoug they had a photocopying machine in the office! I then returned to the original lady who then redirected me to the other two I had also met earlier in order to leave the office some 30 minutes later with a simple form saying I had a tax number in Greece.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Lock up your chickens and rabbits ... changing Greece

If you live near Kozani in northern Greece, this is a very sound piece of advice. There is a refreshing movement in Greece concerned with animal rights - something unheard of 10 years ago when wild stray dogs prowled the city streets and on highwards were regarded as targeted road kill. Yesterday an animal protection group released some 6000 minks from a mink farm near Kozani which traditionally is a fur producing town. And our little furry friends are wrecking havoc upon the local population attacking chickens and rabbits and even children. They seem to be thoroughly enjoying their new found freedom and their chances of adorning some lady this winter are decreasing by the minute. Anyone with experience in catching escaped minks should apply to the Lord Mayor of Kozani - I think there may be a rare employment opportunity in the town!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Drugs abusers and migrants - just the same in Greece?

Basically if you think about it, it is strange. Yesterday's headlines in one of the few English editions of a national newspaper states that on Saturday police continued to clean up the centre of Athens removing drug addicts and migrants from a deserted hotel - the Appollon Hotel - in the city centre. I find it a bit strange as if they were talking about one and the same - drug addicts and migrants? These are very dangerous correlations for a country like Greece where xenophobia is often rumoured about in a more general sense.
What makes this story even worse, if you remove 100 - 150 drugs addicts and migrants what do you do with them? In most European countries such people would be taken care of by the social services in one manner or another. What happened in Saturday to these individuals in Greece? The story relates that one was arrested and the fate of the others is unknown?
So what do the authorities think is going to happen to these 100 - 150 minus one. Where are they going to go? What is going to happen to the drug addicts now on the street and not in some deserted hotel? I feel such Greek solutions is only a means of pushing the social problems along on front of us. These, you can bet, will come back to haunt Greek society - maybe not tomorrow but they will come back.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Greeks migrant problems continue

As mentioned in many earlier posts, the situation of migrants in Greece continues to make news. Some 550 illegal immigrants on the island of Samos have now gone on hunger strike as the Greek authorities step up their policy of moving illegal immigrants to detention centres in North Greece.
It has also been announced that one in three requests for legal residency in Greece are turned out. And turned down for a very ridiculous reason. According to the law in Greece, if the family of a migrant are allowed to stay Greece, the family head must earn an income which is 20% above that of an unskilled laborer, which amounts to 10,200 euros per year before taxes. If he fails to meet this, his family members are regarded as illegal.
All that the Ministry of the Interior were able to comment dryly was that the illegal immigrants were free to appeal their cases. No comment considering the current Greek economic situation and the level of wages in the country.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Funny but true.

The Italian national lottery jackpot has not been won since January 2009 and now stands at a record $ 166 million dollars. The mayor if a small town in Sicily had the magnificent idea of deductng money from municipal workers pay to buy as many tickets as possible for the draw on 4 August. He promised if they won half the money would go towards financing town projects and the rest of the money would be divided equally between the 2000 residents of the town. Chances of winning the jackpot were calculated at 662 million to 1 by mathematicians. Sadly the town's numbers did not come up - indeed no one won the jackpot and it has rolled over again.
The reaction of the mayor - and he could be Greek! - I found magificent. The chances of winning the draw were higher than those of receiving funds pledged by the State.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Greek politics - unreal!

Sad but true the cartoon of the day in the English version of one of the main Greek newspapers. It really does say it all.
Here we have the opposition leader on the television laynching his waves of criticisn on the ruling New Democracy Party. What the cartoon actually refers to the wave of political scandals over recent months.
The most recent which has incensed the population and has done and continues to do untold harm to the image of the ruling New Democracy is the scandal involving the computer commpany Siemens, a German multinational. Reports had leaked that top government officials had received millions of Euros in back-handers in order to ensure that Siemens won the public contracts for public works. The previous director of Siemens, Greece and a few others have absconded to Germany and Greece has tried to issue an extradition order to get them back in front of Greek courts. Strangely this is not going too well - particularly when the said individuals have stated that if they will be extradited they will tell everything. Now that's a difficult one, isn't it!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Bravo Greece - you are unbelievably stupid!

A piece of advice to Greek politicians - think before opening your mouths and before passing laws. Sorry but I am really angry as is usually the case when the issue is the rights of migrants in any country and particularly a European Union one such as Greece which is also a member of the European Union and where citizens can and SHOULD take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

It has just been announced that last year's programm for the integration of children of migrants has not been awfully successful. Indeed, it has been yet again spectacularly unsuccessful. A bill went through parliament last year which was supposed to help the integration of children of migrants to this country and to give them a more secure residence status in the future. Many of these children have been born here and of course do not hold a Greek passport. It was calculated that some 80 000 children would be eligible under this bill to give them permament residence. There were a total of Three - YES 3 T H R E E applications - you understood correctly. Sorry, New Democracy but that is not exactly what I call effective politics. The other 79 998 did not want to have permanent residence???? - I do not think that is the answer to the amazing response. I took a look at the terms of eligibility for such secure long-term residency for the children of aliens. It was, of course, revealing:

- applicants must be under 18 at the time of applying for long-term residency,
- applicants must have finished the nine years of compulsory education,
- applicants must have been born here,
- both parents must have legal residence in the country,
- the application fee is Euro 900 (!!) per child which is more than the average one month salary.

All this leaves me little less than disgusted with Greek politics. Firstly the country has just received over 26 million Euros from the coffers of the European Union to help the integration of migrants - legal and illegal. What is the government doing with it? Honestly, sometimes in this country I just want to shake my head and walk away to a more sane and a more just social system.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The health and insurance system - Greek disaster

Sorry to be so frank but it is the truth. I pointed out in a previous post that without private health insurance I would advice no one to come and settle in Greece. My postings on my own illness in the past weeks I think speak for themselves.
The government is very aware of the problems it is confronted with in the economy in general and in health and social services in particular. IKA is the official medical insurance for the employed individual. However, it is bankrupt. Bad internal management, bad financial management, years of medical centers and hospitals which are more mindful of 100 years ago. Where does one begin?
And worse, ths month, IKA, which is also responsible for paying the pensions of the retired employees, had for the first time in July 2009 to borrow money to pay the pensions. Unbelievable? Yet the government is more concerned with fighting over the forthcoming elections than taking any measures - popular or unpopular - to try and improve a system which smacks of a communist East European era.
. And still worse, the insurance system is owed million by big business which simply have not paid. But alas, these are the friends of politicans in power and the latter will not rock the boat over a few million when their parliamentary seats are at stake.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Sun, sea and Greek road hell on the way back

This is one of the busiest traffic weekends of the year here in Greece as it is the first big holiday move to the coast for many families. Where I live (Thessaloniki) most families move out to their summer homes on Halkidiki. This part of northern Greece is a three-fingered peninsula - consisting of Cassandra, Sithonia and Athos - the latter is not accessible to the public as it is a collection of over 20 monasteries belonging to the Orthodox Church. The first finger, Cassandra, is the main holday area which has been spoiled compeletely over the past ten years by widespread construction of maisonettes without any any real planning or care for the environment. Admittedly Halkidiki is an extremely beautiful area and can be reached by car from the city of Thessaloniki in little over an hour. Problem is though at times of the year like this the little over an hour can become three hours if you decide to travel out on a Friday evening and back on a Sunday evening, for example. Hoteliers there have come in for a lot of criticism this year as the tourist trade is down - mainly on account of the strong Euro against other European currencies yet they will not reduce their prices. Spoiled by better times, I guess.
But do not get the impression inspite of its popularlity that the area is cheap for real estate. I have a friend who build a maisonette on the first finger about three years ago and, although one row back from the beach, she paid Euro 280 000 (ca $300 000). Unfortunately there was new development in front of her directly on the beach - a row of seven up-market properties - price - Euro 1.4 million but sorry they are all taken - mostly by Russians.