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Caritas Greece faces the economic crisis. Caritas Europa urges decision makers in Greece and the EU to put people first


17 Feb 2012


Euro & Finance

“We have many problems because nine out of ten immigrants in Europe pass through Greece. The Greeks are now only employing Greeks so these people remain stuck here until they can escape to another European country – usually through Italy,” says Begoña Kalliga Castiella of Caritas Greece.

Brussels, 17 February 2012 - Caritas Greece is working harder than ever to help people who are suffering from the country’s financial disintegration.

The charity, also member of the Caritas Europa network, has a refugee centre for immigrants living in Athens and its surroundings. It serves 300 meals a day, offers Greek and English lessons and provides vaccinations for children as well as relief kits with clothes, blankets and baby milk.

But the centre has only five employees – a guard, cook, secretary, cleaner and social worker. The number of volunteers, currently 70, may reduce if the country’s situation does not improve.

“We have many problems because nine out of ten immigrants in Europe pass through Greece,” said Begoña Kalliga Castiella, a Spanish journalist who has been volunteering there for seven years, in a telephone conversation with Estefania Aguirre of Caritas Europa in Brussels.

 “The Greeks are now only employing Greeks so these people remain stuck here until they can escape to another European country – usually through Italy.”

“The aim of Caritas Athens’ Refugee Centre is to help immigrants so sometimes we have to turn away Greeks, but we tell them of other places where they can get help,” said the Spanish newspaper ABC’s correspondent to Greece. 

The charity has been recently receiving a larger number of Afghans, Middle Easterners and Africans. Greek Catholics make up only 0.5% of the population, so Caritas is small compared to Caritas in other countries like Germany.

Castiella, who has been living in Greece for 32 years, says the charity is barely surviving, among other reasons because the State is not offering any help.

Greek Parliament Requests 130 Billion Euros

The Greek Parliament ordered a ruthless austerity plan in exchange for an international loan of 130 billion Euros on Sunday. Greeks will know on Monday whether the international community will grant their country the loan.

The plan was ordered just three days after thousands of protesters took to the streets against its earlier resolution to reduce the minimum wage by 22 per cent.

Wealthy family members of the illustrious Stavros Niarchos will be opening a day care centre and organising food distributions alongside NGOs on 1 March.

Mrs Kalliga says the troika plan is a bad solution, but not the worst. (Troika refers to the three members who have the most power over Greece’s future – the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank.)

“Bankruptcy resulting from a rejection of this plan would have even more dramatic consequences for those dependent on social services and basic health services,” she said.

"Back to the drachma (the former national currency) would mean no more medicine and oil since they are all imported.”

Socialist leader of the European Parliament Hannes Swoboda said:  "We are contributing to destabilising Greece. The troika is simply three predators that are blackmailing in exchange for help.”

The population, who is also having further reductions in pensions, simply does not know how to cope with the rising cost of living induced by taxes and inflation.

Caritas Europa: Decision makers cannot let the Greek people fall into a black hole of poverty

The secretary general of Caritas Europa is worried the poor are among the ones who will suffer the most.

“This crisis will increase the vulnerability of the population and put the country's future at stake if no action is taken,” said Jorge Nuño Mayer.

“It is obvious that with negative resources, the life of a considerable part of the Greek population – the poor, the young, the elderly, the unemployed – is at stake,” he said.

“We also fear that the current riots are having serious repercussions on the Greek economy. All these scenarios can lead to more poverty, unemployment and even a deterioration of the social system,” said Mr Nuño.

“The European Union and Greek politicians cannot let a country fall into a black hole of poverty. It would be a shame for the entire EU. The present and the future of the Greek people, especially of the poorest, must be top priority in political decisions."

For French speaking readers, check this story on Secours catholique's web, the French member of Caritas Europa.

For more information:

Thorfinnur Omarsson

Tel: +32 4 73341393

Caritas Europa