In the wake of the growing financial crisis, thousands of Greek nationals are fleeing their homeland. Tens of thousands have ended up in Australia. It is the largest wave of migration from Greece to Australia since hundreds of thousands fled the march of fascism in World War II.
“I feel like I’m on a lifeboat seeing the Titanic sink,” one immigrant, Nikos Fotakis, said.
Melbourne, Australia, has the largest Greek population outside of Athens and Thessaloniki. About 300,000 Greeks live in the city.
Since 2010, when the financial woes began, about 200,000 Greek citizens have left the country.
“You don’t want to live in a society where everyone thinks there’s no future,” Odysseas Tzibrakos, a father of two and migrant to Australia, said.
Recently, Melbourne has opened two new Greek Orthodox churches and a Greek-language school to deal with the influx of new immigrants.
“The inflow of people is reenergizing a community that had for years been shrinking,” Bill Papastergiadis, president of an organization called the Greek Community of Melbourne, said.
Australia’s economy has enjoyed 25 years of growth without recession. Greek migrants, who are often highly skilled, have found an easy place within that growing economy, so local populations tend not to resent the Greek community.
Not all have fled to Australia, however. Some go to other European countries, like Norway or France.
Among migrants, hope for Greece’s future is usually quite dim.
“We do not trust our politicians,” Ilias Chatzilazarou, a migrant living in Sydney, said. “Syriza [the Greek ruling party] is probably better than the others, but the people have been told lies, lies, lies.”
Syriza, a coalition of left-wing interest groups and ideologues, came to power in a January 2015 snap election. They campaigned on a platform of expanding the welfare state and resisting the austerity measures European leaders wanted to impose.
On Tuesday, a debt payment of about 1.6 billion euros was due. However, the Greek government failed to pay up, throwing international financial markets into chaos as the International Monetary Fund announced that Greece was officially in arrears.
A referendum on whether or not Greece should accept the terms of a bailout deal European leaders are offering Greece will occur on Sunday.