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Think Tank

Crisis Sends Greek Emigrants To New York City

What is the Big Idea?

Michaelis Klouvas came back to New York City about a year ago, after a 20-year absence where he prospered as a restaurant owner in Athens. He was prompted to return after Greece plummeted into an economic crisis in the last three years. Unemployment reached 20 percent and the country's GDP fell by 11 percent. 

He now lives in Astoria, a section in Queens known as Little Greece. He notes that the community has changed a lot since he was last there. "Before, there were Greek restaurants. Greek shops. Signs everywhere in Greek," he said in an interview with Le Monde.

 Over the years, Astoria became more diverse as Hispanic people moved in and some Greek families moved to Long Island, New Jersey or back home. Klouvas, who first came to America to join his father, a carpenter, was among those who moved back to Greece.

"Biggest mistake of my life," he says. "But my wife wanted the family back together again."

What is the Significance?

It's hard to say how many other Greeks are in the same position. While some have obtained proper immigration papers, others are living in the U.S. illegally. Last year the number of Greeks who flew into New York via JFK airport was up 20% compared to 2006. And at the Immigration Advocacy Services in Astoria, a nonprofit organization that helps newcomers navigate residency paperwork, staff have observed a 50% rise in Greek clients in just the past year.

Given Greece's ongoing problems, it's likely that these numbers will continue to rise. 

"All the Greeks want to come live here," says Spiro, a young American-born Greek who lives in Astoria.

New York isn't the only destination for Greek immigrants, but close family ties to the community provide a network of support for those who are emigrating for the first time or like Klouvas, their second time. 

Elias Tsekerides, president of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, an organization that promotes Greek culture, says he frequently receives letters and phone calls from people who want to emigrate. Some even send along their resumes. 

 

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

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