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Impoverished Greek families facing uncertain future

12 december 2012, 12:10
0
Blue-eyed Angelina had the misfortune of being born in Greece in 2010, just as the country became engulfed by an economic crisis that has deprived her parents, like so many Greeks, of their jobs and livelihood, AFP reports.

Today, Angelina's family lives in the run-down district of Palia Kokkinia, near the port of Piraeus, where her young parents George and Lia Tsouvalakis face a daily struggle to put food on the table of their tiny, damp flat.

George, 31, is a carpenter who used to earn over 2,500 euros ($3,200) a month alongside his wife, a 30-year-old former shop attendant.

He owned two cars and a motorcycle and headed a five-man worksite team that until recently did brisk business at construction sites.

But when Lia lost her job and the Greek construction industry foundered, George was left with few options in order to make a living.

The family moved into a 30-square-metre flat owned by George's mother, who does not charge them rent, while his brother helps pay their utility bills.

George now carves small handicrafts for tourists and sells scrap metal to recycling yards, and in a good month he can hope to scrape together 400 euros.

In the bad months he makes next to nothing.

"Today I want to buy diapers, milk, meat, oil. From the looks of it I will only buy diapers and milk," George told AFP.

The family refrigerator is empty, save for a few ice cubes.

Tonight, dinner will consist of a plate of chickpeas and salad.

It is a tale heard more and more in near-bankrupt Greece where the recession, continuing for a fifth year, just keeps getting deeper.

The latest Eurostat figures, based on 2010 incomes, show that over 21 percent of Greeks are on a poverty 'threshold', meaning an annual salary of under 6,600 euros ($8,600) per person, or 13,800 euros for a family of four.

But conditions in Greece have deteriorated even further in the ensuing two years, with authorities forced to make major cutbacks in return for EU-IMF loans and doubling the ranks of the unemployed from 644,000 to over 1.2 million.

The district of Palia Kokkinia rose around thousands of destitute Greek refugees who fled Turkey in 1922 after the Asia Minor Disaster, the failed Greek military campaign to annexe the region after World War I.

Ninety years later, there are similar feelings of hopelessness.

"There is no future. Not for this generation or the next," says George, his voice rising in anger.

"I am outraged because we know that all of this happening in Europe did not happen because people overspent money. It is because those governing wasted money," he said.

Greece nearly went bankrupt in 2010 and had to appeal to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for bailout loans after the government revealed a hole in the budget that was far worse than previously thought.

As wave upon wave of spending cuts were applied to plug the deficit, Greeks looked to the ruling elite for culprits.

In particular, the conservative and socialist parties who governed Greece for the last three decades are blamed for chronically failing to tackle tax evasion and corruption, and with stuffing the civil service with excess staff.

The cuts have drastically reduced social benefits to the detriment of Greece's disabled, the infirm and the unemployed.

There are over 20,000 homeless in Greece and their numbers are growing.

George and Lia may have a roof over their heads, but they do not qualify for even reduced support payments.

"We don't have help from the state because we don't fulfil the conditions. You need to be fired from an employer to get unemployment benefits," says Lia.

Sometimes the family eats at church soup kitchens and Lia's parents help out when they can -- though her father's pension has also been trimmed to a paltry 370 euros a month.

George says there is demand for carpenters in Australia, Norway and Sweden. But the family can barely afford cinema tickets, let alone an airplane fare.

"We shouldn't remain in the country anymore. But we don't have the financial capability to leave," says Lia.

"We did not choose this, the state did all this," she says.

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