It was March 2020 when Greece imposed the first lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19. The country is currently in its second lockdown, which for the moment has been extended until January 7, 2021.
In three months’ time, we’ll mark one year of dealing with the pandemic and its devastating consequences around the world. The virus has revealed at least two things for sure: the fragility of what people once considered “normal” and the fact that the pandemic cannot be an equalizer; not all people and social groups are equal in the face of these unprecedented times, or to the consequences we’ve experienced since the pandemic appeared.
These early realizations drove our interest in reporting on (with the resources we had available) the effects COVID-19 on those who live among us, but are “less visible”.
We wrote about how homeless people are more exposed to health hazards (while millions of vacant homes remain empty), and that Europe’s largest refugee camp ran the grave risk of becoming a coronavirus hotspot. We followed unaccompanied minor refugees navigating their way through the pandemic, and brought to light the accounts of migrant agricultural workers, who continue to live in makeshift shelters, with no access to running water and any means to protect themselves from the virus.
We’re glad to announce that due to the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s support, for the next few months, we’ll be able to continue our work and delve deeper into the realities of migrant and refugee workers in Greece, tracing the effects of the pandemic.
Examining the realities of migrant workers in times of a pandemic
In previous decades, when Greece began transforming from a country of origin for migrants, to a country which was now receiving migrants from other countries such as Albania, Bulgaria and Romania, a highly xenophobic assumption began to take root and newcomers were perceived as a “threat”, summarized by the often-repeated phrase “they are stealing our jobs”.
When thousands of people began arriving in Greece in 2015-2016 the same discourse was reproduced again by a portion of Greek citizens – sometimes this attitude was even displayed by people who had arrived in Greece themselves as migrants a few years back.
No matter how widely believed this discourse was, however, does this depict reality? And, are the fears expressed by people justified? Well, consider instead whether or not you have encountered or heard about migrants or refugees working in Greece as engineers or in medicine, in managerial positions or teaching. Court cases are not heard by any judges who came to Greece as migrants, and the Greek parliament has yet to see migrant lawmakers.
So, the answer is no, migrants in Greece do not have access to all kinds of professions. In reality, they are mostly employed in jobs which are not considered appealing or “appropriate” to Greeks.
Migrants work in agriculture (representing over 90% of the workforce), they work as cleaners, or as care workers for the elderly; they are employed in factories and slaughterhouses, more often than usual in the informal economy, and in many cases they are underage workers.
They carry out informal jobs, without contracts or any security, and often under exploitation, migrant and refugee workers, as well as daily-wage earners, are now at risk of failing deeper into poverty, and Greece has done little to protect them.
These are the people whose stories we are going to explore.
With support by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Office in Greece, during the next few months we will investigate how and at what level, these less visible migrant workers – fundamental to our societies and economies – are affected by the pandemic.Join Solomon’s community
What to expect from us
Newsletters curated by Solomon’s editorial team will keep you up-to-date, twice a month, by sharing insights with you on how the projects are progressing and inviting you to share your feedback and ideas.
For our Portraits feature, we meet and talk with migrant and refugee workers who are experiencing the effects of the pandemic, while for the Q&As we reach out to experts who will provide a better understanding of the context and phenomena related to our topic.
The material that will emerge from the research will be presented in long-form investigative and original articles that will shed light on underreported aspects of migrant workers’ realities in Greece.
Solomon’s team and colleagues have already been working on the investigation that will conclude the project’s publications. As always, the content will be published in English and Greek on our website.
Coming next: The portrait of Hamid Nasseri (Afghanistan, 32)
Hamid was working as a gardener at various homes in the northern suburbs of Athens, when the pandemic hit. Hamid doesn’t believe that the virus exists, but he experiences the devastating consequences of it every day. We met him and talked about what it’s like to work in a state of “para-legality”, to share a flat with up to 15 other men during the quarantine, and how he sees his future.
Thanks for reading. This email was written by Iliana Papangeli and Stavros Malichudis. Do you want to share any feedback, idea, story or question? Do not hesitate to contact us anytime at: [email protected] or [email protected]
Iliana & Stavros