Greek Crisis Threatens To Become Crisis In Georgia, Too
TBILISI -- In this age of globalization, when Greece sneezes, even Georgia catches a cold.
"We are all completely dependent on her," says 34-year-old Natia of her mother-in-law Guliko, who is a domestic worker in Greece. "We wait for her to send us something. For 15 years, she has been sustaining a family of eight."
Natia, who lives in the town of Dusheti, some 25 kilometers north of Tbilisi, is not alone. Although there is no precise figure for the number of Georgians working in Greece because many of them are there illegally, estimates range from 50,000 to 200,000, most of them women. And -- as in the case of Natia's mother-in-law -- most of them have been supporting several Georgians.
"She used to send us money twice a month," Natia, who asked that her last name not be used, continues. "One hundred euros for me, a little more for her son, some for her grandchildren. She earns 600 euros a month there and she sends most of it to us, her family."
Those payments are drying up.
"Her employers have cut her salary and keep telling her that soon they won't be able to pay her at all and that she should think about leaving," Natia says.
And when money does appear, transferring it to Georgia has become impossible because of emergency capital controls instituted by Athens. Guliko has been forced to resort to the risky measure of sending cash stashed in bundles of sundries.
After Russia, Greece is the largest source of remittances to Georgia.
Economist Ramaz Gerliani, head of the Expert Center for Economic Policy in Tbilisi, says that, before the current crisis, about $17 million a month came to Georgia from Greece.
"This is through official channels," Gerliani tells RFE/RL's Georgian Service. "If we add to that all the cash they send, it would probably come to more than $100 million [over six months]. This money is very important -- first of all, for the families, but also for the economy."
Giorgi Kadagidze, head of Georgia's national bank, said on July 7 that the loss of remittances might not threaten Georgia "in macroeconomic terms" but that the problems in Greece "will be especially painful from the social point of view."
The previous day, Economy and Sustainable Development Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said he is "worried" about the possibility of Georgians losing their jobs in Greece.
"Finding an opportunity to send money is easier than keeping one's job," Kvirikashivili was quoted as saying. He added that remittances from Greece had dropped by 18 percent in the first five months of 2015.
Marina, 50, lives in Thessaloniki and works providing care for the elderly. She is also anxious about the crisis.
"For the last five months, I have been receiving only half of my salary," she told RFE/RL. "All of us girls are constantly calling one another and asking, 'Did they pay you? Did you get paid?' Nobody is getting paid."
Many Georgians in Greece have already made the difficult choice to return home.
"In my hometown, around 20 percent of [locals who migrated to Greece for work] have come back," Natia from Dusheti says. "They all say that it has become impossible to work there."
Others, she adds, have moved to other countries, particularly Turkey.
Tsiuri Antadaze, coordinator of the Tbilisi Migrant Center, says the return of Georgians is definitely happening.
"The Greek crisis directly affected the ability of Greeks to hire domestic workers and that directly affected the ability of Georgians in Greece to find work," she tells RFE/RL. "The trend of these people coming back to Georgia was first noticed in 2014 and has only grown since. These days, around 10 people come to our office every day."
Marina, who works in Thessaloniki, says the crisis has prompted Greeks to make migrants feel less welcome and to encourage them to leave. She is uncertain about her future after 23 years in Greece.
"I don't know what I'll do," she says.
RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this story from Prague
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.