An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Refugee. Immigrant. Asylum seeker. And the latest: economic migrant. According to the prejudices of the gutter press in the UK and large tranches of Europe all of these terms are pejorative.

When I was young the British government were busily shipping huge numbers of people into the country to fill vacancies throughout the newly formed national health service. Jobs that a lot of native Brits did not want to do for wages they wouldn't suffer. Many, the majority, of these new workers were from the caribbean countries. To "work like a nigger" soon became the working class phrase to connote genuinely hard and applied labour. Within a generation, however, this admiration for a work ethic had turned around and since then just about every available term that has been used to describe incomers of any description has been imbued with some kind of xenophobic overtone. Post WW2 Europe would be a very different place without mobile labour and skills - and that, after all, is what we are really talking about.

One of the latest terms in use is the "economic migrant" tag and implies a group of people who are coming from abroad simply to take money out of the system - out of the mouths of the natives. What they are bringing to trade for this money is seldom considered at all or if it is considered, then it is severely discounted. What contribution they make socially and culturally is entirely ignored. Now it is fascinating that Rupert Murdoch, when he took up US citizenship, was not called an economic migrant. The Mittal brothers are not called economic migrants. Mohammed Al Fayeed is not an economic migrant. Funny but true - rich people who move themselves and their money around the globe, do so at will and are never impugned for it. And yet the Mittals and Murdoch and Al Fayeed are all economic migrants inasmuch as they changed where they live for economic reasons - for economic advantage. And yet - how much tax do they pay in their new countries? Precious little! How much do they contribute? Less still. But they are not vilified. There is a built in assumption that people with money are nett contributors. It is wrong but it is built-in.

Now, Greece is experiencing both types of economic migrant and in surprising numbers. Eastern europeans come to fill lowly paid. tough, and dirty jobs in the building and service industries. They save what they can, to send home to the families that they are economically estranged from. At the other end there are elderly British, German, and Dutch people flowing in with money earned in high income European states to a country where the costs of their living are cheaper and the climate more forgiving. The cheap labour from Eastern Europe, the impoverished economic migrants, build and fit out the high quality, cheap homes that the monied economic migrants have as second, occasional, homes or retirement homes.

The nett effect is not, as it might appear at first glance, economically neutral with inflows and outflows cancelling each other out. The cheap money coming in with the monied economic migrants has pushed land and house prices beyond the grasp of the impoverished economic migrants who live in cramped shabby rooming establishments. In fact, the price inflation fuelled by this cheap money is beginning to move land and house prices beyond a lot of the native population. It is perhaps ironic that the children or grandchildren of the Greeks who have cashed in on the immigrant building boom may not be able to afford to build houses of their own.

The standards that our monied economic migrants expect, demand, and lobby for, are placing and astronomic burden on the infrastructure of the country: water supplies (swimming pools, garden irrigation, and the like), electricity, and roads (4x4 off-roaders almost to a man or woman). And yet, these same monied migrants sometimes take up poorly paid jobs in tourism and so deny them to the natives. Some become shopkeepers, some go into business as craftsmen - serving the ex-pat community, that hates to speak Greek or do business with Greeks, almost exclusively. Once they are in place and housed, a lot of the money that comes in with these economic migrants circulates purely among the ex-pat community.

For now I shall gloss over the massive increases in corruption and criminality that have been engendered by the huge influx of building and land monies.

Three Cretans are sitting in a kafeneion sipping coffee and smoking and enjoying the early spring daylight. Mikhiali used to be a shepherd but the people on the new, English-only estate, Germans will not buy houses on predominantly english estates, have stopped him from grazing his sheep on their huge plots that slowly revert to scrub around their swimming pools, and so he no longer has anywhere to graze them. Now he spends all his time in the kafeneion. Andreas is the mayor. He is constantly beset by incomers demanding made roads and irrigation water supplies for their swimming pools and their toy flower gardens. Dimitri sold most of the land that came with his wife to the developers who built the English estate. His wife's house is now surrounded by German settlers who have taken over her home village. Last week he wanted to buy an olive grove for his youngest son but was outbid by an English couple who paid building land prices for the grove in order to stop someone else spoiling their view. It is just six in the morning and the sun has just risen. Dimitri throws a note an some coins on the table to cover the coffees, they each pick up their rifles and head on out. They are going hunting - shooting small birds for sport. They will make their way up to the estate - the birds have not moved on yet - and so what if the new folk complain!

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