“Without the Albanians, we would not have a single fish”: the fruit harvest has begun in Véria, in the north of Greece, but the farmers there is a desperate shortage of labor this season, after the closure of the borders because of sars coronavirus.
In the firm of Panagiotis Gountis, near Véria, six Albanians, perched on ladders under a burning sun, and collect fisheries.
“In normal times, there is a twenty each year on our farm,” says the operator to the AFP.
The closing of the borders to stop the spread of the new coronavirus deprives Greece of thousands of gatherers seasonal workers who come for the last three decades in majority of neighboring Albania.
The Greek authorities could not provide exact figures, stating that the foreign laborers often enters the country with a tourist visa and worked illegally in the orchards.
Some 15 000 people, in majority Albanians, usually work on the farms of the departments of Pella and Imathia, according to Antonis Markovitis, an officer of a federation of 500 producers.
In April, in full confinement, of the members of the conservative majority of the First minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned of the “imminent danger” to the crops.
In the Face of the shortage of seasonal workers, the Greek ministry of Agriculture has launched may 1, a plan of easing restrictions on border decided during the pandemic, to facilitate the entry into Greece of foreign labour.
Some 90 Albanians have crossed the border this week, has reported Christos Yannakakis, president of the federation of producers of pears and stone fruit (apricots, cherries, plums and peaches).
In Tirana, it is estimated that between 7 000 and 10 000 workers could participate in the Greek plan.
Under the new rules, the Greek producers may use the workforce of the neighbouring countries provided that provide for a quarantine of two weeks and to track the arrivals in the coronavirus.
Pavlos Satolias, boss of the confederation of farmers (Paseges) stressed the “urgent necessity” of labor to maintain orchards, vineyards and vegetable fields.
A good part of the asparagus production this year has already been lost, ” he stressed.
“It is hard to believe that with an unemployment rate of 20% in our region, there is a lack of workforce,” reports Antonis Markovitis.
Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the euro area (16%) but few Greeks working in the farms.
According to official figures, about 8 400 unemployed greeks have applied for a farm work in march, compared to more than 9 500 for the same period last year.
In the Face of the shortage, few have thought about the use of some 120,000 asylum seekers living in miserable conditions across the country.
Philippe Leclerc, representative in Greece of the High commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), however, has called on the government to think about “integration” and “the possibility that they earn their living”.
Questioned on the subject, the Greek ministry of Agriculture has been reluctant to do work without papers. According to a ministry source, the majority of regularised migrants “not suitable” for this type of work and “have not expressed any particular interest”.
For years, the producers “won’t stop asking for a temporary permit to work (…) like that (the migrants) would not be illegal, but nothing is done”, has blasted Pavlos Satolias.
“Learn to pick up the lettuce only takes two days, it’s not like flying a plane”, stated the trade unionist.
But the illegal workers, especially migrants, may be victims of exploitation and xenophobia in Greece.
In 2017, the european Court of human rights has condemned Greece in the case of so-called “strawberry bloody of Manolada”: dozens of Bangladeshis were injured in 2013 by the rifle shots fired by their heads, on a farm of strawberries in the Peloponnese. They demanded to be paid.