Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Catholic charity struggles to help those effected by Greek crisis

Catholic charity Caritas Greece is working harder than ever to help those who are suffering, especially the poor and vulnerable, from the country's financial disintegration.

“This crisis will increase the vulnerability of the population and put the country's future at stake if no action is taken,” said Jorge Nuño Mayer, secretary general of Caritas Europa.

“It is obvious that with negative resources, the life of a considerable part of the Greek population – the poor, the young, the elderly, the unemployed – is at stake,” Nuño said in a Feb. 17 article on the charity's website. 

Caritas Greece, a member of the European Caritas network, has a refugee center for immigrants living in Athens and its surroundings. 

It serves 300 meals a day, offers Greek and English lessons and provides vaccinations for children as well as relief kits with clothes, blankets and baby milk.

But the center has only five employees – a guard, cook, secretary, cleaner and social worker. 

And the number of volunteers, currently 70, may reduce if the country's situation does not improve.

“We have many problems because nine out of ten immigrants in Europe pass through Greece,” said Begoña Kalliga Castiella, a Spanish journalist who has been volunteering there for seven years.

“The Greeks are now only employing Greeks so these people remain stuck here until they can escape to another European country – usually through Italy.”

“The aim of Caritas Athens' Refugee Centre is to help immigrants so sometimes we have to turn away Greeks, but we tell them of other places where they can get help,” said Castiella, who serves as newspaper ABC's correspondent to Greece. 

In recent times the charity has been receiving a larger number of Afghans, Middle Easterners and Africans. Greek Catholics make up only 0.5 percent of the population, making Caritas in the country smaller as compared to its work in other countries like Germany.

Castiella, who has been living in Greece for 32 years, says the charity is barely surviving as the state is not offering any help.

Her remarks come as the country faces a nearly 20 percent unemployment rate amid severe austerity measures.

On Feb. 23, the Greek Parliament approved a bond swap that would eliminate $142 billion off the country's privately held debt. 

A $172 billion bailout was also recently approved to prevent Greece from going bankrupt and keep the country in the euro currency system.

The new measures were decided days after thousands of protesters took to the streets against the government's earlier resolution to reduce the minimum wage by 22 percent.

However, despite attempts to salvage the situation, new financial projections show that the country's economy could shrink even more this year.

The population, which is also contending with further reductions in pensions, is struggling to cope with the rising cost of living induced by taxes and inflation.

Caritas secretary Nuño said he is additionally concerned about the civil unrest in the country.

“We also fear that the current riots are having serious repercussions on the Greek economy,” he said. “All these scenarios can lead to more poverty, unemployment and even a deterioration of the social system.”

“The European Union and Greek politicians cannot let a country fall into a black hole of poverty,” he emphasized.

“It would be a shame for the entire EU. The present and the future of the Greek people, especially of the poorest, must be top priority in political decisions.”