The other 'Grexit': more Greeks calling Melbourne home


In recent years Melbourne has received a flood of new arrivals who've sought help from family and friends to find work.

As uncertainty continues to surround Greece's financial future, a growing number of its citizens have been taking their chances overseas. Particularly in Australia.

It's been said Melbourne has the largest Hellenic population outside Greece. According to the Australian Greek Welfare Association, it's received an even bigger boost in recent years.

Between 2012 and 2014 about 6,000 Greeks arrived in Victoria alone. Around 60 per cent are Australia-born, while the remaining 40 per cent are Greek nationals who have simply run out of options in their homeland.

Different figures from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection say 467 Greek citizens came to Australia as permanent residents between June 30, 2014 and May 31, 2015. Thousands more visited.

Unemployed and facing what he calls a 'shameful situation' in Greece, Panayiotis Mitropoulos moved to Australia with his wife in 2013.

He's now working as a sub-contractor and regularly sends money back to his two children.

"Everything's a lot better," he said. "I live in a country where I get respected as a citizen and I respect the country back. I love it because it's helped me help my children back in Greece. Something I couldn't have done if I stayed behind."

Bill Papastergiadis, the President of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne & Victoria, describes Greece's situation in a single word - tragic.

"You have 60 per cent of people under the age of 28 who are unemployed," he said. "And the majority that are employed, their starting salary is probably no more than $180 a week.

"The prices of food and other day-to-day expenses are similar to here. You can imagine it's creating a lot of social dislocation."

But the surge has resulted in a few issues in Melbourne.

Theo Giourtis is the president of the Hellenic Australian Community Support Association, which was set up specifically to deal with the influx of arrivals.

"The first two years we had problems with furniture and housing," he said. "The Australian system requires references and employment which most don't have. They've got (problems) with their English: most of them can't pass their English test."

Until now, the Australian Greek Welfare Society has been helping local families and elderly residents who struggle to make ends meet.

But over the past three years it's been under extreme pressure to keep up with the extra demand from the newest arrivals looking for work, food and shelter.

CEO Voula Messimeri said the Society will be receiving extra funding from the state government in the new financial year. But not before some serious shuffling from her end.

"I have to admit that it has been very difficult," she said. "We've had to fundraise, we've had to go into cash reserves, as limited as they are for a welfare organisation such as this to respond to that need."

While the influx is challenging Melbourne's Greek population, it's also showing signs of rejuvenation.

Local organisations are seeing more and more Greeks rally to help these new arrivals in their time of need, and with so many fluent Greek-speakers looking for work, sectors like hospitality, education and aged care are reaping the benefits.

In August 2014, nursing home chain Fronditha Care signed a federal government deal to employ 60 full-time Greek nationals over three years.

CEO George Lekakis said it's resulted in a flood of bilingual workers who wants to help care for its mainly Greek-speaking residents.

"It was a good opportunity; fortuitous one would say," he said. "Our workforce is ageing, we have a lot of Greek speakers who are in their post-50s, so we can't recruit locally born personal care workers. It doesn't seem to be a preferred career for many."

Vivi Michailidou has been working at Fronditha for three years. The former sports teacher is now focused on making a better life for her young daughter.

And she hasn't even considered returning to Greece. 

"The people are skeptical," she said. "They're upset by this situation and they don't see a light at the end of the tunnel. The truth is I'm not very optimistic."

The number of Greek people and Greek-born people in Australia on June 30 last year saw a drop from previous years.

Estimated resident population includes temporary and permanent residents of Australia, regardless of citizenship.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch