‘This is not a life,’ say migrants stranded on Greek islands

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Syrian migrant Bashar Wakaa and his heavily pregnant wife are days away from the birth of their third child, stranded on the Greek island of Lesvos in a muddy, garbage-strewn olive grove with no running water or toilets.

Nearby, three Syrian men share a flimsy tent designed for two. Like the expectant couple, they arrived by rubber dinghy from Turkey only to find the island’s migrant camp in a disused military base was severely overcrowded.

“This is not a life for humans,” said 23-year-old Anas Bakour, one of the men who shares the rain-sodden tent. “The animals have a better life.”

The hundreds sleeping in the woods are among more than 8,500 asylum-seekers stuck on Lesvos, where facilities for migrants were only designed to accommodate about 3,000. Thousands more are on four other Greek islands close to Turkey.

A deal between the European Union and Turkey struck in 2016 stemmed the uncontrolled exodus of nearly a million people across the Aegean Sea the year before.
Under the agreement, anyone crossing to Greece from Turkey who does not qualify for asylum must be deported.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras discussed cooperation on migration with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who arrived in Athens on Thursday for the first visit to the country by a Turkish head of state since 1952.

Though arrivals collapsed in 2016 following the deal, they have recently ticked up. In the four months to November, 15,800 asylum-seekers arrived on Greek islands, up 27 percent from last year, according to data from the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).

The data does not give monthly arrivals by country of origin but a UNHCR spokesman in Greece said most were Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, as has been the case throughout the crisis.

Aid groups and experts on Europe’s migration crisis say the main problem is a lack of political will to improve conditions on the Greek islands, in the hope of dissuading more migrants from risking the sea crossing.

“No one will admit it but it’s a discouraging factor, a discouraging message for anyone who may want to come,” said Konstantinos Filis, research director at Greece’s Institute for International Relations.

Aid workers say there is now an acute shortage of medical care, the conditions are horrendous and more and more depressed asylum-seekers are cutting themselves or attempting suicide.

Camp residents say gangs, some armed with knives, roam at night, drugs and alcohol circulate freely and women cower in their shelters for fear of attack.

“Any girl in this camp expects at any moment that she will be attacked,” said Shahed Naji, 22, an Iraqi woman.

The EU-Turkey deal does not explicitly forbid asylum-seekers from leaving the islands until claims are assessed but the process takes months and stranded asylum-seekers grow desperate and frustrated, said charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

“People need to get off the island as soon as possible,” said Aria Danika, MSF’s field coordinator in Lesvos.

Turkish officials said the increase in crossings to the Greek islands in recent months did not reflect any slippage on their part in implementing its agreement with the EU.

Some camp residents on Lesvos said they were not aware of the deal blocking their journey onwards to northern Europe.

Others said they left Turkey because they could not find work and found life unbearable.

“No one puts his life in danger to come by small boat if Turkey is good and he can live there,” said Amal Adwan, a Palestinian born in Syria now on Lesvos.

Adwan, who made seven attempted sea crossings before reaching Lesvos, said she might have had second thoughts if she had know what the conditions were like.

“If I knew before, maybe I wouldn’t have come,” she said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told Reuters there was “a certain general resistance to moving people from the islands, not to create a pull factor.”

Greece’s migration ministry, which manages the Lesvos camp, has said it is trying to ease overcrowding but could not remove people in large numbers because of the EU-Turkey pact.

It declined to give an immediate comment on conditions on Lesvos and other islands.

Ahead of Erdogan’s visit, Prime Minister Tsipras told a Turkish news agency on Wednesday that the EU-Turkey deal was “difficult but necessary.”

The European Commission, which has offered Greece millions in emergency aid, said on Thursday it was working on a daily basis with the Greek authorities to try to improve the conditions on the islands but more needed to be done.

“I have earlier, also in Athens, expressed my frustration over the fact that although we have put so much money at the disposal of all the authorities, that still the situation on some of the islands is unacceptable,” the Commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters.

On Lesvos, the once-welcoming community is fed up. On Saturday, residents used cars to try to block a ferry from unloading containers intended to house more refugees.

The island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, said EU policies had turned the island into “an open prison” and called for protests and strikes against the deal.

Sitting in his office overlooking the port, he compared Lesvos to a weightlifter being asked to lift heavier and heavier barbells: “Today, we’re buckling. When we get crushed the situation will be completely unmanageable and explosive.”

Back in the olive grove, Wakaa and his pregnant wife are despondent. “If they can’t accommodate these people then why are they accepting them in the first place?” Wakaa asked. “Let them drown in the sea. At least they will die and rest.” [Reuters]


Source  :  ekathimerini.com

National Archaeological Museum sheds light on Hadrian’s world

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Forty pieces are on display in the Athenian Kosmetai gallery through November 2018.

Emperor, philhellene, globe-trotter and superstar, a fan of the arts who nonetheless liked to live modestly, spending a lot of time with his soldiers, Hadrian (AD 76-138) was without doubt a restless spirit and a multifaceted personality who is seen as an instrumental factor in the osmosis between the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.

Marking 1,900 years since the beginning of Hadrian’s Principate in AD 117, the National Archaeological Museum (NAM) and the Italian Archaeological School at Athens present “Hadrian and Athens: Conversing with an Ideal World,” an exhibition dedicated to the Roman emperor and his contribution in shaping a common Western cultural heritage.

Running through November 2018, the exhibition comprises 40 pieces from the museum’s collection that have been arranged in the Athenian Kosmetai gallery so that they appear to be in an imaginary philosophical dialogue with the likes of Metrodorus, Antonius Polemon and Herodes Atticus.

According to the curators, “portraits of Plato and Aristotle, standing as symbols of Greek philosophical thought, observe the imagined conservation, along with the Kosmetai at the back of the hall (the officials who were responsible for the intellectual and physical education of the ephebes in the Athenian gymnasia of the imperial period). Through this enriched exhibition narrative, the guardians of the traditional education (paideia) of ancient Athens are approached with new interpretative media that highlight the deep spiritual affinity between Hellenic and Roman culture.”

One of the highlights is a splendid bust of Antinous, the emperor’s beloved companion, who was deified after his premature death and venerated in the gymnasia as a model of youthful beauty and vigor.

National Archaeological Museum, 44 Patission, tel 213.214.4800, http://www.namuseum.gr. Opening hours are Mondays from 1 to 8 p.m. and Tuesdays to Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission costs 5 euros.


Source  :  ekathimerini.com

Social security contributions to add to load for freelancers

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Changes in the way social security contributions are paid as of next year will increase the burden on freelance professionals.

In 2018 freelancers are set to see their incomes shrink further, as 46 percent will have to go toward the payment of contributions and taxes.

Next year, their contributions will be calculated on 85 percent of their gross revenues, while as of 2019 they will be based on 100 percent of their takings, further increasing the annual burden.

Curiously, from next year, freelancers will have two kinds of incomes, the taxable income and that on which contributions will be based: The former stems from the deduction of the previous year’s social security contributions, while the latter will be calculated on their gross revenues.

The constant increases in taxes and contributions have led to thousands of freelancers closing their books and seeking other forms of payment, as it is virtually impossible for them to survive on the money left after they have covered their obligations.

In some cases – mainly concerning those on lower incomes – the amounts that remain are only enough to cover rent and utility bills.


Source  :  ekathimerini.com

Banks agree to cooperate on debt settlement

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Domestic banks intend to settle the almost 170,000 pending debt cases that have stalled in the country’s courts in a manner that is likely to lead to generous haircuts. They plan to do so by using judicial decisions already issued under the law that protects debtors’ main residences as a guide.

This is the first time that Greek lenders are joining forces to tackle the debts of those who have borrowed from more than one bank, and the settlements will preferably be extrajudicial.

The majority of cases that do reach the courts in the context of the protection law (known as the Katseli Law, after the economy minister who introduced it earlier this decade) concern mortgage or consumer loans from more than one bank.

The practice that banks have agreed to is aimed not only at accelerating cases and tackling the issue of nonperforming loans more efficiently, but also identifying strategic defaulters.

“Those who genuinely want to have their debt settled have no reason to reject the common proposal that banks will extend to them,” a bank official tells Kathimerini, while, “by contrast, those who don’t respond to the compromise offer by the banks will obviously have different motives.”


Source :  ekathimerini.com

Top judge accuses gov’t of intervention

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The head of Greece’s top constitutional court accused the government of intervention in justice, with the opposition calling for the resignation of minister Stavros Kontonis.

Nikos Sakellariou, the chair of the Council of State, responded to criticism by Kontonis against a recent CoS decision on the declaration of assets by justice officials, speaking of “a blunt intervention to the work of Justice by the Minister”, and adding that the issue remains open at the CoS.

“We do not accept directions from anyone. We are at a difficult junction. We are in the dark where the bailout agreements have put us in. There are limits to words. In my presence, minister, the intervention was in appropriate,” said Sakellariou: “I am sorry I am forced to adopt such a language, but we shall not back down on exercising out duties.”

Sakellariou and Kontonis spoke at the annual general meeting of the Greek Prosecutors Association, whose President, Dimitris Asprogerakas also criticized Kontonis about the minister’s statements related to the delay in the Appeals Court Judges Council decision on match fixing in soccer. Asprogerakas said “the minister cannot come here to scold us.”

New Democracy swiftly called for the departure of Kontonis from the ministry, saying that “it is unprecedented for the Justice leadership to publicly accuse the competent minister of blunt intervention in its work. In any state governed by law Kontonis would have been dismissed.”

Later Kontonis stated that the Sakellariou criticism was unjustified.


Source  :  ekathimerini.com

As Tsipras seeks to implement tough measures, aides press for early elections

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Fearing that the government may suffer yet more political wear and tear as it tries to steer clear of pitfalls of the fourth bailout review, senior officials are increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to hold early elections in March.

This push for snap elections comes amid government plans for a cabinet reshuffle in January in a bid to reverse the backlash emanating from foreclosure auctions and the problematic visit last week of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The noose is also expected to tighten with an imminent trade union law in January and the anemic growth projections in 2017.

Tsipras had reportedly first mulled a reshuffle in early September but deferred any action so as not to put a freeze on negotiations with creditors – as the ruling coalition’s main priority was the completion of the third review.

But having now secured an agreement with the lenders, government officials say the countdown to a reshuffle has begun.

Most probably this will take place immediately after the Eurogroup on January 22 which will officially seal the agreement with Greece’s lenders.

According to sources, the nature of the reshuffle is expected to influence Tsipras on the timing of elections.

If the reshuffle is of a corrective nature – which is the most likely case – that will be a clear indication that he plans to head for the ballot box no earlier that the end of 2018.

On the other hand, if there is a radical overhaul of his cabinet then this may suggest that he might spring an early election surprise before the summer.

The coming months will be no walk in the park for the government as – according to the Supplemental Memorandum of Understanding signed by the government and international creditors on December 2 and revealed by Kathimerini – it will have to implement 82 prior actions in the period stretching from March to June, beyond the 110 prior actions stipulated in the third review.

This means that the privatizations of Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) and Public Power Corporation (PPC) and the Elliniko plot development project must also get under way.

Moreover, the government must also decide in May whether to reduce the income tax threshold in 2019 or 2020.


Source  :  ekathimerini.com

Bank stocks battered on widespread uncertainty

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Local banks’ stocks came under great pressure over the week, as investors remain nervous about the medium-term future of the country’s credit system.

The big issue of nonperforming loans and meeting their reduction targets, uncertainty regarding the outcome of next spring’s stress tests and worries about the impact of the new accounting standards (IFRS 9) that will lead to increased provisions for new bad loans are all causes for concern among investors.

Analysts say that the country’s uncertain prospects after the completion of the bailout program in August and the course of the current bailout review are adding to the jitters in the market. They note that no convincing answers have been provided yet as to how Greece will get along in the post-bailout period, and no one believes the country can proceed without any form of support. This is why many investors are opting to wait for the framework of the period after the program ends to take shape before looking into the Greek stocks.

In the absence of buyers (at least for the medium term), the stock market has been sliding lower, with bank stocks posting major losses on low trading volume, which reflects the lack of interest.

Notably, since mid-July, when the market peaked after the completion of the second bailout review, the banks index has lost 45 percent of its value, while the benchmark of the bourse has dropped about 18 percent.

The stock of National Bank has fared best in the sector, limiting its losses to 25 percent in the last four months thanks to the progress of its restructuring plan that has led to the strengthening of its capital base after the sale of its subsidiaries.

Alpha’s stock has lost 40 percent and Eurobank’s 46 percent, while Piraeus has seen its stock sink the furthest, dropping 61 percent, due to the findings of a probe by the Bank of Greece.

The complications this fall concerning online foreclosures have added to the gloomy atmosphere; many observers are waiting to see whether the auctions will indeed start on November 29 as planned, as they are a crucial tool in terms of tackling NPLs and strategic defaulters.

For their part, bank officials say the pressure of the last few months is not justified, arguing that the bad-loan reduction targets will be met and the stress test results will be positive.



Mapping the Greek diaspora

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How can we strengthen ties between Greece and its diaspora, this growing (also as a result of the financial crisis) community that includes politicians, businesspeople, academics, scientists and artists? How can the Greeks who live abroad take a step beyond cost-free, wishful rhetoric and help to tangibly change the situation back home?

The Greek Diaspora Project, launched by South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX), a part of the European Studies Center at St Antony’s College, marks a remarkable effort in this direction. The aim of the project is to provide a thorough map of the Greek diaspora around the world and to explore its relationship with the crisis-wracked metropolis.

Kathimerini spoke with the project’s principal investigator, Othon Anastasakis, and Antonis Kamaras, who is coordinator in Greece, on the sidelines of the recent Reload Greece conference in London about progress achieved so far as well as plans for the future. The team has already published online a multimedia map of the Greek diaspora which was produced by SEESOX and the Greek Foreign Ministry. In June next year, Oxford will host the international conference “Homeland-Diaspora Relations in Flux: Greece in Crisis and Greeks Abroad.” Organizers are currently calling for papers on politics, economics and charity. The best papers will be published in a collective volume after the conference.

Meanwhile, Anastasakis told Kathimerini, “we will carry out a survey about Greeks living in Britain – why they left, to what extent they have integrated into British society, under what circumstances they would move back to Greece… We want to carry out an in-depth study based on an as representative sample as possible.” Researchers expect to have wrapped up the study by the end of the year.

The debate on the Greek diaspora, Kamaras said, “was stagnant, it did not have the comparative dimension, it was not internationalized enough.” The aim of the project, he said, is to show how Greece is benefiting from its relationship with the diaspora, compared to other countries, like India or Israel, which also have significant communities abroad.

Many people, especially those in the field of tech start-ups, believe that Greece will come to look a bit like Israel in terms of the metropolis-diaspora ties. However, the Indian precedent may be closer to Greek standards. The mass emigration of Indians in the early decades following independence, Kamaras said, was due to the failures of the Indian economic model. Today India is still dogged by serious structural problems. However, Kamaras says, after the reforms introduced in the 1990s, the foundations were laid for the mass repatriation of Indians.

Researchers also focus on the attitudes of the homeland – on a state as well as social level – toward the diaspora. Anastasakis stresses the exclusion of expats from elections held in Greece. Exclusion, Kamaras says, feels even more acute in the years of the crisis “as these people were forced to flee because of the failures of a system that now refuses them the right to take part [in elections].”

“Greece has turned its back on the diaspora,” said the former aide of Yiannis Boutaris. Speaking about the issue of charity, for example, he said that “the requirements for making a donation are much stricter than, for example, in the case of EU funding. We do not want to fulfill requirements such as transparency, good governance and so on. We do not want to yield control,” he said.



One fifth of Greeks covering 83 pct of annual income taxes

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Less than a quarter of property owners (23 percent) have to cover two thirds of the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) due from individuals.

The left-led government’s blase response to criticism of its overtaxation of the middle class can be explained by the fact that it actually only affects a relatively small section of the population: From a total of about 8.8 million taxpayers, 80 percent, or 7.1 million, pay from zero to 100 euros per month in taxes. As for the Single Property Tax (ENFIA), four in five property owners also pay from zero to just 42 euros per month.

An analysis of tax declarations reveals that 80.8 percent of taxpayers – those who declare a low income – are responsible for just 16.8 percent of the total income tax on individuals, meaning that the remaining 83.2 percent of that tax is covered by 19.2 percent of Greeks.

This is because 7,091,832 taxpayers pay an average of 190 euros per year to the tax authorities, while 1,676,485 taxpayers with relatively higher incomes pay 21 times more on average, or 3,985 euros per year. It also explains why Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos had no qualms about admitting to overtaxing the middle classes, given that four in five Greeks are not actually affected by it.

With the exception of the reduction of the tax-free threshold – which was something the country’s creditors insisted on so as to broaden the tax base – all of the other measures adopted by this government have contributed to concentrating the burden on a small section of the population: changes in the calculation of social security contributions and the solidarity levy, the new income tax brackets, changes to the way freelance professionals are taxed, the increase of the burden on people who receive both a salary and work freelance, and shifting part of the ENFIA load through the supplementary property tax.

In ENFIA’s case in particular, from a total of 6,390,936 individuals who receive a payment notice, some 77 percent, or 4,924,012 property owners, have to pay no more than 500 euros per year. This adds up to 911 million euros, which is only one third of the amount individuals pay for the property tax. Consequently, the remaining 1,466,924 people, or 23 percent, have to cover the rest, which is 1.8 billion euros or two thirds of the ENFIA collections the Finance Ministry expects every year from individuals.