Greeks turn to the forests for fuel as winter nears
After first felling society’s most vulnerable, with pensioners and low-income workers at the fore, debt-stricken Greece’s great economic crisis is now destroying the middle class. The announcement this week that €44bn in emergency aid will soon be funnelled into the country – the latest in a series of rescue programmes by the EU and IMF to prop up an economy running on empty – comes as little consolation for people on the ground.
Poised for their worst winter since the eruption of the crisis three years ago, Greeks who once thought nothing of heating their homes now hesitate. After relentless waves of austerity and tax rises that have seen their purchasing power drop by up to 50%, even doctors and lawyers are feeling the pinch, with many saying they cannot afford the 40% surcharge the government has slapped on heating oil.
Having been on the frontline of Europe’s debt drama from the outset, Greece embraced austerity in return for international financial assistance that has kept bankruptcy at bay and tied it to the family of single currency nations. But the effect has been ever more devastating on its social fabric. Middle class downsizing is the latest tell-tale sign in a country whose GDP officials predict will shrink 25% by 2014 – a contraction unheard of in an advanced western economy since America’s Great Depression. (via The Guardian)
Greek demonstrations are not now marked by the vehemence or violence of the mass protests that occurred when Europe’s debt drama erupted in Athens, forcing the then socialist government to announce pay and pension cuts, tax increases and benefit losses that few had anticipated. Anger and bewilderment have been replaced by disappointment and despair.
But the quiet fortitude that has been on display could soon run out in the country on the frontline of the continent’s worst crisis since the second world war. For on Thursday demonstrators were sure of one thing: if pushed too far they may be pushed over the edge.
"Personally, I’m amazed there hasn’t been a revolution," said Panaghiotis Varotsos, a computer programmer.
"In Portugal they’re rioting over one measure when here we’ve been made to accept countless cuts and tax increases. And the worst thing about being ground down is that it breeds extremism," said the silver-haired leftist. "In the case of Greece it is extremism that is going to the right because [the neo-Nazi party] Golden Dawn has managed to exploit people’s despair. But it won’t just stay here. It will spread, like this economic crisis, to other parts of Europe, too."
For the vast majority of those who took to the streets, the tipping point could be the latest round of austerity measures being demanded of the debt-stricken country in return for the international rescue funds it so desperately needs to keep bankruptcy at bay.
Under intense pressure from international creditors at the EU and IMF, Samaras’ fragile coalition has been forced to draw up a draconian package of spending cuts worth €13.5bn – the price of a whopping €31.5bn loan instalment that is already four months overdue. Officials have suggested the burden will fall on society’s most vulnerable with pensioners and low-income Greeks once again having to make the biggest sacrifices. (via guardian.co.uk)
French Officials Work to Stem Drug Wars in Marseille
Drug and gang violence in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, has gotten so out of control that one local politician has called for the army to be sent in to restore order.
Marseille is France’s oldest city, and its poorest. A quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, and 18 percent are without jobs. In some parts of the city, youth unemployment is as high as 50 percent. Youth crime is soaring, too.
"Right now in Marseille, it is like Chicago in 1930; gangs, violence, drugs," said businessman Mohamed Ziani grew up in the Mediterranean port city and has watched it change. At the crossroads of trade, from Italy to the east and Spain to the west, much of the drug traffic in Europe comes through Marseille.
Today, drugs are dealt openly in many of the high-rise housing developments that dot the city. And guns are cheap, raising rivalries to a deadly level. This year, 21 people have been killed in a brutal drug-trade turf war. (via VOA_News)
(Reuters) - Rozsaly, near the border with Romania and Ukraine in one of the country’s poorest regions, pays local workers to grow crops and raise livestock to help the village feed itself and ease the poverty that has affected it for generations.
Last year, it was also among the first places in which the Hungarian government introduced its new public works scheme, which aims to help hundreds of thousands of mostly unskilled people back into the labour market.
Around 100 street beggars from Romania and Bulgaria have remained in Finland for the winter. They have found shelter in overcrowded one-room apartments and on the streets as no new camp has been constructed. The National Bureau of investigation says some of the Romania Roma may be here against their will. However, claims of human trafficking are not being followed up as the Roma remain tight lipped.
Those working among the Romanian roma say that most of them stay overnight in small apartments housing dozens of people. In Vantaa, one person has given shelter to around ten people.
Each of them presents harrowing tales of difficult and poor conditions back home, and of their poor state of health. Thanks to the Helsinki Deaconess Institute, they are able to receive medical attention. At a day centre in the Sörnäinen district of Helsinki, the street beggars can wash, cook and rest.
All say they beg money to help their children back home. It has cost them between 150 and 300 euros to get to Finland, they claim.
According to the National Board of Investigation (NBI), over ten people were convicted in Romania for human trafficking last year. They had brought people to Finland and forced them to beg, play in the street, steal or work on building sites for low wages. The NBI took part in the investigations.
Since last summer, investigations have not continued. Romanian’s living in Helsinki say they have not heard of cases of human trafficking. (via YLE Uutiset)
Greek economic crisis turns tragic for children abandoned by their families
From cases of newborn babies wrapped in swaddling and dumped on the doorsteps of clinics, to children being offloaded on charities and put in foster care, the nation’s struggle to pay off its debts is assuming dramatic proportions, even if officials insist that the belt-tightening and structural reforms will eventually change the EU’s most uncompetitive economy for the better.
Propelled by poverty, 500 families had recently asked to place children in homes run by the charity SOS Children’s Villages, according to the Greek daily Kathimerini. One toddler was left at the nursery she attended with a note that read: “I will not return to get Anna. I don’t have any money, I can’t bring her up. Sorry. Her mother.”
"Unfortunately, there’s been a huge increase in demand from families in need," said Dimitris Tzouras, a social worker employed with the organisation for 19 years. "In the greater Attica region [of Athens], we’re talking about a 100% increase partly because public welfare is in such disarray people have no one else to turn to."
Whereas in the past, pleas for help had come mostly from families where abuse was a problem, they are now from victims of the economic crisis.
"Parents who feel they can no longer look after children are calling in, but our policy is to do whatever we can to keep families united," added Tzouras. "The crisis has exacerbated underlying problems that in the past may just have threatened to tear families apart. It’s not only the vulnerable. It’s now affecting the middle class." (via The Guardian)
Ireland: huge queues form at Capuchin food handout
Almost 2,000 Christmas food parcels were handed out at the Capuchin Friary in Dublin’s Bow Street today, the highest amount in four years.
The Friary said the free food was handed to people from all walks of life, including those they described as the new poor in need of assistance.
Gardaí were on hand to help manage the queue that formed from early morning for the free parcels and bags of basic provisions to help people get through Christmas.
Three years ago around 400 people arrived at the centre for the annual food handout. This morning, an initial 1,500 parcels were distributed and more were quickly assembled to meet demand. (via RTÉ News)
Solène Laisné works at the Secours Catholique centre in Le Mans, western France. Every day the charity’s regional branch serves a free breakfast to people in difficulty – families, pensioners and increasing numbers of under-25s. With a one-year community service contract Laisné counts her blessings, “lucky to have that much at least”.
In its most recent report, published on 8 November, SC analyses the barriers to social and professional integration for the 18-to-25 age group. They are not the largest category using the charity’s services, but their numbers are steadily increasing. In 2010, just over one in 10 of the cases observed at SC centres concerned under-25s. “This may figure may seem low, but it is worrying,” says Bernard Schricke, head of the charity’s Action France department. “It’s very hard for young people to appeal to a charity.”
Didier Piard, head of social action at the French Red Cross, is worried too. “In two years applications for food aid by this age group have tripled from 3% to 9%. And the managers of our training centres for paramedics and nurses are reporting increasing numbers of students in great difficulty.”
The face of deprived youth has changed. There are still social outcasts who have cut loose from their family, but others have joined their number. Alongside cases of “extreme poverty” (17% of those surveyed), SC is seeing large numbers of 18-to-25s (21%) either looking for work or still in training. (via Guardian Weekly)
Though the German population is steadily getting older, it is leaving its low income earners behind. A new report says their life expectancy has gone down two whole years since 2001.
A decade ago, German low income earners could expect to live to the age of 77.5, but in 2010 they could only hope to make 75.5, according to a report in the Saarbrücker Zeitung newspaper on Monday.
The German government revealed the decline in response to an official question from The Left party.
The decline has been more drastic in the former communist eastern Germany, where life expectancy among low income earners has dropped from 77.9 years to 74.1 years over the same period. The statistics mean that, in effect, the general trend towards a longer retirement period only applies to average or above-average incomes.
Most people born after 1964 in Germany can now only expect to draw on their full pension at the age of 67. (via The Local)