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'I worked for 50 years and now I am a beggar for €120': What the debt crisis is doing to Greeks

The future is uncertain, but it’s the people of Greece who are feeling the effects.

Greece Bailout Pensioners try to get a number to enter inside a bank in Athens. Source: Associated Press

THE FUTURE UNCERTAINTY for Greece has caused chaotic scenes in the country.

While Europe and the markets await the outcome, the people on the ground in Greece are suffering the effects.

This week thousands of pensioners besieged the nation’s crisis-hit banks, which reopened to allow them to withdraw vital cash from their state pensions.

Greece Bailout Source: Associated Press

“Let them go to hell!” shouted one pensioner, after failed talks between Athens and international creditors sparked a week-long banking shutdown.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government ordered the banks to close on Monday for one week and imposed strict capital controls to head off a banking collapse after panicking Greeks emptied the nation’s cash machines.

Greece Bailout Source: Associated Press

Athens reopened almost 1,000 bank branches for three days to allow pensioners without bank cards to withdraw €120 euros to last them the rest of the week.

Under banking restrictions imposed all week, ordinary Greeks can withdraw up to €60 a day for each credit or debit card. But many of the elderly population, who are allowed more, do not have them.

Greece Bailout Source: Thanassis Stavrakis

Greece Bailout Source: Associated Press

“I took the money out. I know that this is not enough, but that’s what I could take and so I took it,” said Dyonisia Zafiropoulou, a former employee of the national electricity company DEI.

She said she was convinced Greece could weather the financial crisis.

“I lived during the (WWII Nazi) Occupation, I experienced hardship and I think we will overcome this moment,” she told AFP.

 ’No money for medication’ 

Another customer, a retired sailor who also asked not to be named, told AFP he had no cash to buy crucial medicine for his sick wife.

“I worked for 50 years on the sea and now I am a beggar for 120 euros.”I have no money for medication for my wife, who had an operation and is ill.

Greece Bailout Source: Associated Press

The future for the young people of Greece also hangs in the balance.

“I don’t see a future in Greece,” sighs Dani Iordake. The 21-year-old, who proudly sports self-styled tattoos on his arms, was forced to drop out of university to help his mother pay the bills.

“It’s a beautiful country… (but) I couldn’t imagine living here and struggling every day.”

Greece Bailout Demonstrators shout slogans during a rally by supporters of the 'No' vote to the upcoming referendum. Source: Associated Press

With youth unemployment at nearly 50% and a breakdown in negotiations with Greece’s international creditors heralding further financial woes, many of Iordake’s contemporaries are packing their bags.

Over 200,000 Greeks have quit the country since the financial crisis began in 2010, according to a Endeavor Greece, a local chapter of an entrepreneurial promotional group. They have been driven away by a dearth of jobs, pitiful wages, endemic corruption and lack of meritocracy.

Scarcity of opportunities

32-year-old Christos Pennos left in 2013 because of a scarcity of opportunities in the scientific field, and managed to snap up a post as a university researcher in Norway.

“My brother lives in Spain, my best friend in Germany. I have a lot of friends in Britain, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and even in Poland.”

Greece Bailout People line up at an ATM outside a Piraeus bank. Source: Associated Press

Friends Marilena and Josie, 22 and 33, catch up over a beer and falafel sandwich, which they eat on a bench in the street while they discuss their future.

As a massage therapist, Josie cannot find full-time work and has been forced in the past to take baby-sitting and cleaning jobs to make ends meet.

“Before the crisis, I was paid €1,300 euros net. Today, I don’t get even half that, gross.”

Her boyfriend, a Syrian refugee she met while volunteering for a migrants association, is currently in the Netherlands and she’s thinking of going to live with him.

Marilena may also pack up and head to Germany, where her brother lives. He signed up with the military there and earns a €2,000 salary, with practically no expenses to pay, she said.

Greece Bailout A demonstrator shouts slogans as the sticker on her cheek reading ''YES to Greece, Yes to Euro'' during a rally. Source: Associated Press

The decision to leave her homeland is not one she will take lightly, however.

“It’s an option, not a must.”

For millions of Greeks worldwide, fond memories of white-washed villages under azure skies have been overshadowed by images of street protests and panicked bank queues — and fears about the country’s European future.

Anguish about relatives in Greece, feelings of helplessness and sometimes guilt are shared by many in a diaspora that spans the world’s continents and has swelled over years of economic turmoil.

Greece Bailout Source: Associated Press

From Melbourne to Chicago, expatriate Greeks have watched from afar as their homeland has been impoverished amid years of recession and now faces the threat of crashing out of the euro.

“Before, I felt privileged to have come to Germany, I didn’t have to live with the crisis every day”, said Yannis Sarakatsanis, an IT expert who moved to Munich three years ago.

“Now I think about it as soon as I wake up in the morning.”

“All my family is in Greece. We keep in touch daily,” said Maria Melidis, 65, whose family owns Artoplis, a popular bakery in Chicago’s bustling “Greektown”.

“It’s very hard because you’re suffering with them.”

- © AFP, 2015

Read: Greece has another €10.3 billion in debt due in 2015>

Read: Greece still wants its referendum after saying yes to a third bailout>

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