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Emigration returns to crisis-hit Greece and Ireland

By Chris Bowlby
BBC Radio 4, Crossing Continents

In the places worst affected by Europe's economic crisis, unemployment and cuts in pay and public services are hitting the headlines. But the crisis is also having another effect with profound long-term consequences - the return of emigration.

Filippos Katampouris and father
Filippos Katampouris (left) says it was a "horrible mistake" to leave the UK

Places like Greece and Ireland thought the good times of the last decade or two had finally ended the cycle of emigration, with the brightest and best youngsters no longer feeling they had to move away.

No-one believes that any more.

In the fish market in Athens is Filippos Katampouris, one of the best-qualified assistant fishmongers you'll ever meet.

He has a degree from a Greek university, and a masters degree in technology management from the UK.

When he gave up his British job to return to Greece a few years ago, he could have been a symbol of a newly prosperous country offering good prospects to young professionals.

"I wanted to live in my country, didn't want to spend the rest of my life in a foreign country," he said.

FIND OUT MORE...
Chris Bowlby's report for Crossing Continents can be heard on the BBC World Service from Thursday 15 April 2010 starting at 1132 GMT
Or listen to it here later

With hindsight, he thinks he made "a horrible mistake" coming back. As the economic crisis began to hit Greece he lost his job in a market research agency. All he can do now is join his father and "work in the fish market to make ends meet".

"It's a very dark future for me," he adds gloomily. "I'm thinking of going back to the UK, but my wife won't come with me so I'm going to stay here and hope for the best."

Austerity

Thousands of Greeks are facing this dilemma - do they stay and suffer austerity and unemployment, or become the next generation of large exiled Greek communities in Australia, Britain or the US?

Passport office queue
Future emigrants are among those queuing for passports in Dublin

In Ireland, the resumption of emigration is already well underway.

During the Celtic Tiger boom, there was Irish huge pride in the fact that jobs in new industries were keeping locals at home. Ireland was even attracting its own immigrants in large numbers from elsewhere in Europe to work in everything from building to financial services.

But that boom - which became a property bubble - has come to a catastrophic end. Unemployment has risen sharply, and the Irish government has had to introduce harsh austerity measures.

Among the public sector workers taking industrial action against the measures are the staff at the main passport office in Dublin.

Angry queues form outside each morning as people hope to obtain their passports despite the action, some for holidays, but others for possible emigration.

Dream over

"I've an offer now to go to the States and I'm thinking of just getting out of here," one man in the queue told me.

Conan O'Broin
Conan O'Broin is himself seriously considering leaving Ireland

"I definitely don't want to leave the country. But it's a case of being driven out of it at the minute. It's just pay cut after pay cut. And if I do go, I won't be back."

A short walk away is the campus of Trinity College Dublin, where the president of the students' union, Conan O'Broin, is equally despondent.

"I've said goodbye to five or six very close friends over the last few months, some of whom at least I don't think are going to come back," he said.

"The dreamland is over, we're back to reality with a bang," he adds. It is "the same cycle which hit Ireland in the 1950s and the 1980s, high levels of emigration, used as a safety valve because we can't get our act together to develop a sustainable economy".

He is, he admits, seriously considering leaving himself.

There has always been international movement in search of work. And the European single currency was supposed to help create a continent in which people could either enjoy their own country's new prosperity, or move freely around if they felt like a spell abroad.

But now many young Greek and Irish emigrants, despairing at the state of their home economies, feel forced to head for the exit, just as their parents and grandparents might have done.

Europe is no longer the newly happy and prosperous economic family they hoped their countries had joined.


Crossing Continents on how the Greeks and Irish are responding to the crisis will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from Thursday 15 April 2010 starting at 1102 BST, and also on the BBC World Service.

You can also listen to Crossing Continents on the BBC iPlayer or subscribe to the podcast.



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