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Crisis leads Filipinos to pull up roots again

By Lina Giannarou

It is 5 p.m. and Linda is on the bus, commuting from her day job, where she takes care of an elderly woman in the northern Athenian suburb of Melissia, to her afternoon job, which is baby-sitting in Neo Psychico. She has worked at this exhausting pace for about a year now, after losing her position as a housekeeper for a Greek couple in Neos Cosmos, southwestern Athens, which she had held for 16 years. The couple were sad to see her go, but the economic crisis meant they could no longer afford her services.

For this Filipino woman, the job market in Greece today is a far cry from the promising one she encountered when she first arrived in the early 1990s.

“It took a long time to find work [after she lost her job], and then it was only part-time and with very little money,” she told Kathimerini, declining to give her surname.

“But I am going back to Manila. My husband and I will work our fields and see what happens.”

Linda has already bought the tickets and is ready to head home in early June.

It is estimated that around 15,000 Filipinos live and work in Greece, with another 40,000 employed on Greek-owned ships and yachts.

Over the past few years, figures show that hundreds of Filipinos -- who came to Greece in their thousands as part of an organized migration program in the late 1980s and early 90s, mostly to work as household help -- are returning home. The most firmly rooted of Greece’s migrant communities, the economic crisis appears to be chasing them away, as few Greek households can still afford to hire home help.

The first to go are the children and spouses of those who still have jobs here, even though many have kids who were born here and feel quite settled. They are followed by those who don’t want to spend money on renewing their residence permits once they expire as they know that finding work will be a tough task. Then there are those who came to Greece in the past decade and have yet to form any strong bonds with the country. They have seen their monthly wages drop to the point that it is no longer worth it.

However, there are a few hundred Filipinos who have worked as household assistants for nearly two decades and have acquired a great deal of expertise. According to Panayiotis Adams, who runs an employment agency specializing in household help, most of this group of Filipinos have seen their salaries reduced by a maximum of 20 percent.

“Most earn around 800 to 1,000 euros a month,” Adams said. “Demand for them remains high because they are so specialized.”

The most marked difference between then and now, he says, is that while in the past he would get calls from employers from all over Athens, now it is almost always from the wealthiest suburbs.

According to Leanor Mabagal, welfare officer at the Embassy of the Philippines in Greece, going back is not easy for most members of the Filipino community.

“The Filipino people are very hardworking and they maximize their time. Now, with the crisis, they will work two or three jobs -- a couple of hours here, a couple there -- whatever they need to do to make ends meet. Most share accommodation with others. Either way, even 500 euros is better than what they would earn in other places, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia or the countries of the Middle East, which are their alternatives.”

ekathimerini.com , Monday June 11, 2012 (20:00)  
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