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For Greece’s Refugee Population, the Route to Secure Employment is Far from Easy

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

As refugees and forced migrants struggle to find asylum in Greece mainland and its islands, it continues to experience an unprecedented demand on its unsteady labour system. Many who choose to seek asylum in the country can expect to wait at least six months for a decision so they will search for any form of employment during this time and after a decision has been made. But as Greece buckles under the weight of a seemingly never-ending job crisis. The process of entering the market is a steep challenge for the new arrivals.

Source: Time Magazine

According to The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), Greece’s unemployment rate stands at 14% with the number of 15-24-year-olds without a job at 38%, compared to 4% and 12% in the UK respectively. Many young Greeks who are fortunate enough to find jobs often complain of underemployment, with a large number of graduates landing in low-skilled and low-paid jobs such as bar work or handing out flyers on the streets. This is true for skilled refugees as well. They are eager to make a livelihood drawing from the experiences and knowledge that they gained in their own countries. However, just as they migrate to Greece seeking a better and safe life, a large majority of Greek youths and graduates choose to travel further afield in the hope of better paying jobs. Between 2010 and 2015, 500,000 people emigrated from Greece, many of them young and looking to build a brighter future, says ELSTAT (Hellenic Statistical Authority). Another reason why some refugees find it hard to seek employment in Greece is because many of the skills they acquire and utilise in their respective industries back home cannot be transferred to a European context.

SYRIUS, a body which focuses on the skills and integration of refugees, says those who do hold the correct papers often work in the construction, transport and retail sectors which are low-skilled, low-paid and are rife with violations of labour rights- yet another difficulty of living on the move.

Refugees who regularly attend a local distribution centre in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, complained of the Greek government’s hostility and their challenges in finding employment. One young Somalian man told me he had found a job working in the fields outside Thessaloniki. “I’m so tired because last night I worked from 10pm until 7 this morning doing farming. It is hard work but I have to do it because I need the money”, he said with a wry yet hopeful smile lighting up his face. Unfortunately, he is one of the lucky few. Khaled, former captain of a Syrian cargo vessel which operated in Middle Eastern and African waters for 30 years, says he has been desperately trying to get a job since he arrived in Greece in early 2019 so he can send money back to his family in Syria. He was then finally asked to attend the government’s employment office to establish if he was eligible for employment and, if successful, be given a job. Unfortunately, his non-ownership of an AMKA number leaves him empty handed.

Source: Daily Express

Speaking in a low, gravelly voice, he explained what had happened: “I went for an interview at the job office yesterday and they told me I needed a social security number but I don’t have one so I couldn’t get a job. I need to send money home to my family so they can live. I was a captain at sea for 30 years but I’ve received no support (from the Greek government). Nothing at all.” His depressed, sunken face looked even glimmer after he was told of the news.Access to the labour market for refugees in Greece is worsened for a number of reasons: the challenging economic conditions, competition with Greek-speaking workforce who are familiar with the country’s system, and problems in obtaining required documentation to allow declared employment.

Source: GTP Headlines

The process of claiming the right to work for refugees in Greece can be painful: the issuance of a Social Security Number (AMKA) by the Greek government, which allows free access to healthcare and the right to work in the country, is either very slow or never comes to fruition. Then, in July 2019, Greece’s Ministry of Labour withdrew support for how AMKA cards could be granted to foreign nationals, making it incredibly difficult for them to be issued.

However, the government has now started issuing temporary AMKA numbers to foreigners and uninsured people as a way of encouraging them to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But the Greek healthcare system refuses to hand out these social security numbers to refugees who do not have documentation to get vaccinated, potentially worsening the spread of the virus and providing a further blow to their inclusion into the country’s society. As more and more refugees stopover or look for permanence in Greece, major issues like these can only add to the stress and anxiety refugees already experience. Until Athens fully accepts refugees into the country’s society, sadly the grind for displaced groups entering will only continue.




About the Author

Tom has worked at a refugee centre in Derby since 2018, sorting out donations of clothes for refugees in Calais, France and Greece and volunteered at a food distribution centre in Thessaloniki, Greece over summer 2021. He recently graduated with a BA in Journalism at Derby University. In his free time, he enjoys playing tennis, listening to hip hop and RnB music and travelling.


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