Under the headline, Jobless Greeks Resolved to Work Clean Toilets in Sweden, the Bloomberg news agency featured the story of Tilemachos Karachalios, a 40-year-old former pharmaceutical salesman in Greece until the economic crisis pushed him to Sweden, where he works as a school janitor.
His story mirrors that of many Greeks who have fled their homeland in search of jobs, with unemployment in Greece now at a record high of 24.4 percent. Many of have chosen Sweden, but he told Bloomberg the life is not easy and he misses Greece, although he said he detests the politicians he blames for creating the crisis.
Leaving behind their families and friends, their once well-paid jobs and their beloved country, the Greeks are once again experiencing the harsh times of the 1950’s when mass waves of desperate Greeks were traveling the world in search of a better future.
Karachalios had been working for 17 years as a pharmaceutical salesman. “It was a very good job. Now I clean Swedish s—,” he said. He left his 6-year-old daughter back in Greece with his parents, while he still receives money from them whenever his salary is not paid on time.
Even after losing his pharmaceutical job, he didn’t give up on Greece. He said he worked as a telemarketer but was left unpaid for months. Then he thought of moving to Australia but Sweden turned out to be a more low-cost solution to his problems. “I knew they were very organized. Everyone pays their taxes and it’s fair. There is no cheating.” he said.
Things did not turn quite as expected for the Greek expatriate but he still is grateful for having a job at all. “I was doing something more glamorous but I don’t mind this work. I feel alive again. When you are unemployed too long, it’s very hard. I was angry all the time.”
Living now in a studio for which he pays 524 euros, or $670 per month – in a building with many other immigrants – when Karachalios is not tired from work he spends his evenings trying to learn Swedish. Because he doesn’t know the language, he has been unable to find a better-paying job in the health care sector he knows.
Karachalios said if he doesn’t find a permanent job, he may move to Shanghai with his daughter, where his ex-wife, a Chinese woman he met at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, now lives. Bitter with Greek politicians and suggesting that Germany and France crippled Greece to take hold of the oil reserves in the Aegean, Karachalios is not the only Greek immigrant going through harsh times.
Ourania Michtopoulou and her family also moved to the northern country to escape the crashing reality of their country. “Here, I can hope for something good to happen. Maybe not for me — I’m 48 — but maybe for my children,” she told Bloomberg.
More and more young people – despite their university degrees and qualifications – are forced to leave Greece, where the jobless rate for those under 25 is now 54.9 percent. Families are reorganizing their monthly expenses to make ends meet, while elderly people cannot even pay for their medicines anymore. Companies and businesses are shutting down day-by-day, while taxation and cuts in salaries and pensions never cease.
After two years of pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions demanded by international lenders as a condition of lifeline loans, the average salary fell 23 percent in Greece to $1,400 a month, but many people – those still working – are making far less, creating continued desperation and despair, and forcing many – like Karachalios and Michtopoulou – to leave the land they said they still love, but where they can’t find work.