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Debt-rattled Greeks seek out the German Dream

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Debt-rattled Greeks seek out the German Dream
Photo: DPA
07:11 CET+01:00
Athens-born Elin Georgakila holds a degree in interior design, is full of energy and, seeing the doors close for her in debt-mired Greece, has turned to booming Germany as the land of opportunity. AFP's Celine Le Prioux reports.

Like thousands of her compatriots, Georgakila, in her mid 20s, saw that the Greek economy had less and less to offer a talented professional just as Germany was crying out for skilled labour.

"I worked seven months in Greece and I got only 10 percent of what I should have got," she said. "So I decided to try to get a job in Berlin."

She moved to the German capital last month, where she shares a flat with a Greek-German, Marco Sokianos, who, "very affected" by what his fellow Greeks are going through, tries to help where he can.

Georgakila is part of a new wave of qualified young people whom the eurozone debt crisis has forced to leave their own country in search of brighter prospects abroad, even if the start can be rocky.

She chose Germany, home to the third-largest expat community of Greeks after Australia and the United States. And while unemployment has hit 18 percent in Greece, in Germany it just dropped to 6.5 percent, according to the latest data.

Greek immigration to Germany goes back to the 1960s when the then West Germany was in the midst of its "Wirtschaftswunder," or economic miracle, after World War II, and desperately needed workers to run its factories.

Having signed a "guest worker" pact with Italy in 1955, Germany inked further agreements with Greece and Spain and recruited a huge number of workers, many of whom were illiterate. But the oil crisis of 1973 brought this first wave to an end - Greeks who tried their chance in Germany after that ended up in service industries, opening restaurants and travel agencies.

The current rise in the number of jobless young Greeks fresh out of university is offering Germany a fresh talent pool.

"We lack doctors in Germany. And in Greece, young people have to wait a long time to get a position as an intern," said Beate Raabe, spokeswoman for the German central office for the placement of foreign workers, a public body that is part of the Federal Labour Agency.

"That's why we organised recruitment sessions for young graduates of medicine in 2010 and 2011 with our Greek partners," she said.

"And this year we have started gauging the interest of young Greek engineers to come and work in Germany. At the end of 2011 we will probably have the first results of our study," Raabe added.

Georgakila has so far failed to master the German language, which is a common problem among many young Greeks, Raabe acknowledged.

As a result, demand for German lessons has spiked with the number of Greek students rising by 30 percent since the beginning of the year compared to last year at the Goethe Institutes in Germany.

For Georgakila though, it is a question of priorities - she does not have enough money at the moment to pay for lessons, so makes do with learning German by computer with the help of Sokianos.

According to the Labour Agency, the number of Greeks registered with Germany's social security system increased 5.9 percent between the end of March 2010 and this year. More up-to-date figures will be released at the end of the year but all indications point to the increase being clearly higher in the last months of 2011.

"We are clearly seeing more requests than before about the working conditions in Germany at the German embassy in Athens," a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said.

In Berlin, the Orthodox priest Emmanuel Sfiatkos sees a similar trend.

"Currently between 40 and 50 people come to see me every month to ask me to help them. These last three months, it has really intensified," he said.

For the time being, Georgakila has no work.

She is selling bags she made with a fellow Greek in a Berlin boutique, earning a bit of money and hoping that something better will come along soon.

AFP/mry

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