As uncertainty worsens in Greece, doctors, lawyers and academics flood inboxes of compatriots worldwide with CVs and pleas for help getting work
A Greek flag flies outside the Athens Stock Exchange. The exodus of its highly educated professionals has been described as ‘squandering the intellectual and social capital’ of Greece.
Greek professionals are scrambling to leave the country as the economic situation deteriorates, flooding the inboxes of diaspora Greeks across the world with resumés and requests for jobs.
In the past 10 days, the Greek Medical Association UK (GMA UK) has seen a 30% increase in the number of emails and phone calls from Greek doctors enquiring about leaving Greece to work in the UK.
“Over the last few years there has been a steady increase in the number of doctors who want to find a job abroad. But in the last month there has been a peak, there has been a sudden increase in the number of emails and phone calls we’ve received with all these rumours about Greece going out of the euro,” said Dr Gregory Makris, president of the association.
He said that if Greece voted no in the referendum on Sunday, the number of doctors leaving the country would increase even further. “A lot of people are waiting to see what happens on Sunday, we could see a sharp increase on that 30%,” he said.
Over the past five years, an estimated 200,000 Greeks, or 2% of the nation’s population, have left the country to search for work. But as the uncertainty in Greece worsens, people are sending out pleas for help to Greeks living abroad.
One Greek-Australian academic has been receiving about 10 emails a day, every day, for the past month, from Greek professionals asking for help getting work in Australia. On Wednesday alone, he received 56 such emails.
“In the beginning I thought it was spam,” said Vrasidas Karalis, professor of modern Greek and chair of department at the University of Sydney. “Some of them send letters with complete CVs, or with ideas for projects they’ve planned. Or they just say: ‘Can you help me to come there? Whom should I approach? What should I do?’
“It’s heartbreaking. There is a tone of despair, of hopelessness or total resignation and abandonment,” he said.
Of the hundreds of Greek people who have approached Karalis, some of whom he knows, most of whom he has never met, he said all but one – a taxi driver – had university degrees.
“Most have master’s degrees and a substantial percentage have PhDs. All of them are really educated and accomplished professionals. Mostly they are in their 20s and 30s, at the most creative and most productive period of life.”
Among those who have approached Karalis, who is a prominent member of the Sydney Greek community, are teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentists or, like him, academics seeking work in an Australian university. While speaking to the Guardian, Karalis received two messages on Facebook from Greek university lecturers, pleading for his help in finding employment in Australia.
“One of them is very successful as well. They must be very desperate. Poor things. What can I do?” he said.
Nelly Skoufatoglou, 32, is among the young, accomplished Greeks pushed out of the country by the economic conditions. A journalist with dual Australian-Greek citizenship, she was previously the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine, Ozon Raw, in Athens. But after months of receiving pay cheques that bounced and salary payments being delayed, she moved to Australia – where her mother was born – and took up a job in Melbourne as online editor of Neos Kosmos, a bilingual Greek newspaper distributed throughout Australia, New Zealand and Greece.
Now she is on the receiving end of requests from other well-educated Greek professionals looking for employment. On Thursday, through Neos Kosmos’s social media and email accounts, she received 22 unsolicited messages asking for work; in the past week, she has received more than 100.
“I get a lot of emails and messages from people in Greece, or newly arrived Greeks in Australia looking for employment, sponsorship or even asking for financial aid,” said Skoufatoglou.
Of the hundreds of people who have contacted Skoufatoglou for help since October last year, she says more than 80% hold university degrees, 60% have master’s degrees and more than 10% hold PhDs.
“They’re asking to do anything, even asking to be connected to restaurants to wash dishes. We’re talking about doctors, lawyers, they don’t care what they do as long as they can work and support families back home,” said Skoufatoglou.
Karalis calls this exodus of professionals from his homeland “squandering the intellectual and social capital” of Greece, a brain drain from which the country will struggle to recover.
“It means that in five or 10 years Greece could be left with no educated elite who could take over and modernise the country. These people have been educated in the country, the Greek state paid for their education, and now they’ll leave and the benefit will be harvested by another state. Not to mention in all these cases the human cost, most of these people have left families behind,” he said.
Professor Richard Hunter, regius professor of Greek at Cambridge and president of the council of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece’s largest university, said the exodus of university lecturers from Greece would be particularly devastating for the country.
“Every bit of Greece is suffering at the moment, but the universities are in serious peril,” he said.
Hunter said that for several years young Greek academics had been forced to leave the country to find work – a blow for the nation’s universities, which for the last decade have produced world-leading research in software engineering, nanotechnology, archaeology and classical antiquity.
“Obviously Greece has been suffering for some years from the fact that its young academics are leaving. Most countries prosper on research, and it is hard to overestimate the value which universities bring to national prosperity and social progress,” said Hunter.