Immigrant families and homeless people receive food
from members of a humanitarian group at a housing
complex in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Angelos
crisis: Precarious funding pushes health and social
services to extremes
ATHENS, Greece,— As the volunteers unpack
their shopping bags of rice, milk and cooking oil,
Goman Badder retreats to the room he lives in with
his wife and their one-year-old son. For the
28-year-old Syrian Kurd, the deliveries are a mixed
blessing: he is relieved that his family will not go
hungry, but humiliated that it has come to this. He
had hoped for better things for his son, asleep on
the neatly made bed.
"When I left Syria, I felt I didn't want him to be
like me," he says. "But I never thought for him it
would be like this: people bringing him Pampers and
milk. If I'd known it would be like this I would
never have brought him to this world."
His friend Salah Muhamed, a Kurdish teacher who fled
the "hell" of Syria six months ago, did not mince
his words. "In Syria, we will be killed by guns," he
says. "Here, we will be killed by the economy."
For the past six months, this state-funded centre
for asylum seekers has received no funding from the
state. Its 25 staff members have not been paid since
January. Due to its debts,www.ekurd.net
the centre has "huge problems" with suppliers and
the usual food deliveries stopped two weeks ago.
Some of the 225 residents thought the staff had gone
on strike over pay but, as director Vasilis Lyritzis
explains, they could simply not go on: "We just
stopped cooking because we didn't have anything to
cook. The moment that we have food, we cook again."
Even now, the inhabitants of the Lavrio centre,
about 40 miles from Athens, are among the most
fortunate of Greece's tens of thousands of asylum
seekers, most of whom receive no support from the
state and sleep rough in large, unsanitary slums in
cities such as Athens.
But, as the debt crisis takes its toll on state
services and the unpaid bills to suppliers mount up,
Badder and Muhamed are being pushed to the extremes.
And they are not the only ones. Across the country,
some of Greece's most marginalised and vulnerable
people who rely directly or indirectly on the state
to feed them are now facing the possibility of
having to turn to their neighbours for help.
On the island of Leros in the Dodeccanese, the
governor of a psychiatric hospital has, in the past
two weeks, like Lyritzis, found himself having to
plead with suppliers to keep bringing food, despite
an almost complete inability to pay them. Yiannis
Antartis's suppliers stopped for a week, after which
he found enough money to pay them each €15,000
(£12,000) – enough to encourage them to restart but
far from enough to cover the hospital's total debts
to them of €1.25m.
Antartis believes he has about a month to find money
to pay the debts and protect the 400 patients, who
have a range of mental illnesses, from depression to
dementia and schizophrenia. Owed about €13m by its
debt-ridden health insurance funds, the hospital,
which is already sending samples to private labs for
want of sufficient facilities, will soon be
struggling for the basics, he said.
"If we don't receive money within three to five
weeks we're going to have a real problem – for food,
for medicines, for hospital supplies, bandages, even
the basics," he says. "All levels of the hospital
are going to start breaking down.
"My primary concern is to receive enough money to
pay some outstanding bills in order to keep the
hospital going, from the insurance funds, from the
state, from wherever, just to be able to keep the
hospital going. I am really worried about the fact
that the hospital will not be able to function
normally if we don't receive payment."
His position will be met with sympathy by the
director of a state hospice in the Kypseli
neighbourhood of Athens, who said last week that, as
well as medicine shortages and an inability to pay
energy bills, the institution had had no meat or
chicken since 1 June.
Antartis has been the hospital's governor on and off
since the 1980s, when it was revealed to be keeping
patients naked and chained to their beds. He is
adamant the institution bears no semblance to its
former self. In 1988, he says, 1,600 patients were
"piled up" in wards and looked after by fewer staff
than today. Now, 120 of the 400 patients live
relatively normal lives outside the hospital.
But, last week, Antartis was so concerned about
supplies that he wrote to the health ministry and
major political parties warning that patients were
being poorly fed. Since then, he has managed to get
the supplies coming in again and has met Greece's
caretaker health minister, who, he says, showed
understanding and promised a €150,000 payment by the
end of June.
"But he [the minister] emphasised that the insurance
funds do not have any money and that the hospitals
have to keep every penny in order to keep going,"
Antartis says. Given the size of the debts and the
interest rates on them, €150,000 "doesn't cover
The inability of health insurance funds to pay their
debts has caused chaos in the healthcare system,
contributing to a shortage of medicines and the
closure of dozens of commercial pharmacies.
Antartis is relieved the hospital managed to resolve
– albeit temporarily – the problem with food
supplies without the patients realising anything was
wrong. But he remains concerned, particularly about
medical supplies, as that is one area in which
Leros's community, as active and kind as it is, will
not be able to help. "I think the local people will
help with food," he says. "But even that is going to
be a problem at some point because for how long are
they going to be able to help?"
One place where Greeks have reportedly already
stepped in to fill the gap left by the state is
Corinth, where the prison has had food shortages and
people have started collecting goods for the
inmates. Another is Lavrio, where donations have
been keeping food on the table for the asylum
seekers and refugees, among whom Lyritzis estimates
there are 75-80 children. Some of the volunteers are
hardly well-off themselves: Nadia, one of the
members of a people's assembly from Athens which
dropped off food at the weekend, is on Greece's new
unemployment benefit of €360 a month and has had to
go back to live with her mother.
"€40 or €50 just means I won't go out for a couple
of days," she shrugs, loading bags of groceries into
a waiting car.
Lyritzis, an employee of the Hellenic Red Cross
which runs the centre, says the finance ministry has
been unable to tell him when, or if, its funding
might come. He says the centre had an estimated five
days of food supplies left and he is in a very bad
For Badder, who came to Greece in 2010 after alleged
persecution due to his Kurdish ethnicity, that would
be good news.
But if the situation is not alleviated, he would
like to see the responsibility for his centre fall
to a power outside Greece. He says: "The Greek
people are very, very good. They look after us. But
the Greeks have no money. Why must the Greeks bring
us food? We are in Europe, not just Greece."
As the volunteers busied themselves in the
courtyard, unpacking tins, toiletries and cartons of
milk, he says: "The people here are so nice. We
can't tell them: 'Don't bring food because we are
ashamed'. We must say 'Thank you'. But we feel bad."
Copyright ©, respective
author or news agency,