Greek debt crisis: Georgians feel Greece's pain

By Rayhan Demytrie
BBC News, Georgia

  • Published
Georgian men (July 2015)
Image caption,
Finding work is a problem for many in rural areas of Georgia

The road to Lapankuri passes through a majestic wood with singing birds.

The village of several hundred inhabitants is situated in a mountainous gorge in eastern Georgia.

It is beautiful here.

There is only one problem: As in many other parts of rural Georgia, there are no jobs.

"Nearly half of the village population has migrated in search of work to Greece, Italy, or Russia," says Turmishkhan Petriashvili, sitting on a bench under a hazelnut tree.

His wife Mzevinar has been working in Greece as a housekeeper since 1997.

Her salary, says Mr Petriashvili, helped to keep the family alive in those difficult years. But last month she received only half of her salary, and her long-term employers are thinking of leaving Greece.

Across Georgia there are thousands of families like the Petriashvilis.

Image caption,
Turmishkhan Petriashvili's wife has worked in Greece since 1997

The first wave of migration began here in the mid-1990s after Georgia's two civil wars with breakaway regions, and economic hardships, forced people to migrate in search of work.

Greece is the second most popular destination for Georgian migrant labourers after Russia.

Remittances down

Unofficial estimates suggest that up to 200,000 Georgian migrants are living in Greece.

And the crisis there is having a ripple effect in Georgia, where thousands of families are dependent on money sent by relatives working in Greece, mostly women who are domestic workers or carers for children and elderly people.

"Their problems started a couple of years ago when salaries were slashed from an average 800 euros to 500 or less," says Zurab Tsursumia from the non-governmental Civil Development Agency, which has been working on migrants' issues.

Image caption,
Half of Georgians work in agriculture, but it makes up less than 10% of the country's GDP
Image caption,
A Soviet-era mural portrays a golden age of agricultural toil

"The main problem now is that they can't get their salaries. It means that they can't send money back home.

"Their families here have bank loans and other financial obligations.

"Cutting off this important source of income will cause problems for thousands of Georgians."

'Social problem'

According to the Georgian National Bank, before the crisis annual remittances from Greece were about $200m per year. Half of that sum will not reach Georgia this year.

"From the beginning of this year there has been a decrease in remittances from Greece by 15-20%, and we expect that figure to go down even further," says Giorgi Kadagidze, Chairman of the National Bank of Georgia.

"In short term it's more of a social problem. The loss of $100m is not such a huge sum for the Georgian economy that it will cause some kind of instability, no.

"The problem is that this sum is split among tens of thousands of families whose main income - in many cases only income - is from remittances."

Image caption,
Turmishkhan Petriashvili is hoping his pigs will generate some extra money

There is a growing concern that the decrease in remittances might be followed by a mass return of migrants. But some government officials who have addressed the issue in recent days have been reassuring the public that this is unlikely.

Back in Lapankuri village, Turmishkhan Petriashvili, who has recently bought a few pigs and will try to sell piglets to make some money, agrees.

"If the crisis in Greece gets worse migrants will try to find job opportunities in other European countries like Italy or Spain.

"There are not that many options for them here."