Greece is a country in financial lock-down at the moment, a situation that also affects many of the Filipinos living here. A look at the situation on the ground in Athens:
There are over 7000 Filipinos living in Greece at the moment, with an estimated further 40,000 working as seafarers onboard Greek owned or managed ships. Many of them are being affected by the same restrictions that apply to everyone in the country right now, with banks having been closed all last week and cash machine withdrawals being restricted to 60 Euros (PHP 3000) per day. Of course, just finding a cash machine that still works is also a challenge, as the whole country is literally running out of money.
There are already numerous reports and stories circulating about wages not being paid to staff, with one Filipino woman claiming in the news that her salary as domestic helper has not been paid due to her employer running out of cash. Businesses are also struggling greatly, with local credit and debit cards not being accepted anymore out of fear that any payments will not be honored by the banks, and the country is now reverting to a purely cash based economy.
Possibly the biggest problem for Filipinos in Greece is the fact that remittance centers are also affected by the crisis, and most have remained closed for the last days as their financial backbone depends on the currently paralyzed banking system. Moneygram, WU, and even PayPal transactions from Greece are currently not possible and every single branch I tried turned me away. With capital controls and a ban on bank transfers abroad already in place, this will no doubt result in a drop in remittances and potential problems for loved ones back home in the Philippines.
There were large scale protests in Athens on Friday night, ahead of the referendum on Sunday, and while the gatherings were largely peaceful, the Philippine Embassy in Athens has advised kababayans to stay away from areas of protest. The atmosphere here in Athens in general is quite peaceful but with an underlying tension to it, and a feeling of uneasy uncertainty.
Hopes are high that things will normalize again next week and once the referendum has been held, but no matter if the people vote yes to the demands of the country’s creditors or no, the ship called Greece is currently sailing into uncharted territory and the effects of any developments here will certainly also be felt thousands of miles away in the Philippines.