Humanitarian crisis simmers in Greece: Experts

ATHENS - Poverty has severely worsened in Greece under a gruelling recession exacerbated by austerity measures, swelling the ranks of the unemployed, the homeless and the destitute, experts said Saturday.

"We have noticed a dramatic increase in our mess halls over the recent period," added Chrysostomos Symeonidis, head of the Athens archdiocese poverty fund.

"We distribute over 10,000 meals on a daily basis and 250,000 meals are given out nationwide on a weekly basis," Symeonidis said.

In comments to the daily Ethnos, Symeonidis warned along with officials and aid workers of a simmering humanitarian crisis as official data showed that more than 320,000 people had lost their jobs in a year.

Athens Mayor George Kaminis told the daily that the city's homeless had increased by around 20 percent while queues at soup kitchens set up by municipal and church organisations were up 15 percent.

"Care workers no longer meet typical homeless people, they meet a person who likely had a perfectly ordered life weeks previously," said Kaminis, who has asked for additional state funding for city welfare services.

"The numbers are shocking," said Nikitas Kanakis, who heads the Greek branch of Medecins du Monde.

"Around 20 percent of Greeks live in wretchedness. The number of Greeks seeking survival at community kitchens and medical centres has quadrupled, the number of homeless and those in temporary shelter has tripled. ... We are talking about the start of a humanitarian crisis," Kanakis said.

Greek unions warn that the number of jobless will exceed 20 percent next year because of the recession and public sector cutbacks demanded by the country's creditors, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The Greek government has pledged to reduce the state payroll by 150,000 by 2015, but only a fraction will be staff already near retirement.

Greece is in the grip of a four-year recession set to continue next year, bringing the cumulative fall in economic output to 15 percent, according to EU estimates.

Official data this week showed that more than 878,000 people were out of work in the third quarter of the year, most of them women and people aged under 30.

The unemployed during this period represent 17.7 percent of the workforce compared with 16.3 percent in the previous quarter and 12.4 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2010, the state statistics agency said.

Meanwhile, the number of employed fell to nearly 4.1 million from 4.4 million a year earlier, the agency said.

"It can be quite hard for young people who can't find work, but imagine the psychological anxiety of someone my age," 60-year-old radio technician George Barkouris, who lost his job just before retirement, told Ethnos.

"Everything shows that the family fabric as we once knew it is fading, those close to us aren't there when you need them the most," said Barkouris, who has children but is now staying at a homeless shelter.