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Sunday 4 December 2016

Elderly Greeks collapsing with heat in chaotic pension queues

A pensioner reacts as she obtains a priority ticket to get part of her pension outside a National Bank branch in Athens, Greece, July 1, 2015
A pensioner reacts as she obtains a priority ticket to get part of her pension outside a National Bank branch in Athens, Greece, July 1, 2015
A pensioner (C) is squeezed as she waits outside a National Bank branch to receive part of her pension in Athens, Greece, July 1, 2015

As the Greek government pressed ahead with referendum plans hundreds of Greek pensioners took to the streets of Athens yesterday demanding the release of their money.

Elderly pensioners queued throughout the day, their frustration turning to anger. Several hundred joined a protest group in central Athens marching through the streets to the Central Bank.

Greece has shut its banks this week, imposed capital controls and limited teller machine withdrawals to prevent the public from emptying the banks.

On the third day of the closure, the costs were biting deeper for ordinary Greeks. Even with a withdrawal limit of only €60 a day, there were signs of banknote shortages, with bankers saying €50 and €20 notes were running low.

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Some banks have opened especially for pensioners who don’t have bank cards to allow them some access to their money. Withdrawals are limited to €120 per person for the week.

Protesters chanted, demanding the government give them their money back and insisting they would not be bought off with a ‘tip’ or charity of €120 a week.

Among the crowd was George Lagaras (58) a retired seaman who supports his wife and two children on his €1,000-a-month pension.

“I have worked all my life and now the government thinks I can live on just €120 a week. We can’t cover any of our bills with this, but I am not worried about the bills. I am worried about food and health. I provide for my wife and two children. We cannot survive on this,” he said.

At some banks, pensioners gathered from midnight on Tuesday to wait in line for their money.

For some the heat proved too much, with reports of several pensioners collapsing.

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Others expressed their anger at the Greek Government. Sophia Lagiou (65) a retired police officer, demanded the governing Syriza party return to the negotiations. She said she and her husband could not survive on the meagre allowance.

“In Greece was born democracy for Europe, and we hope for the best. But I worry and I am afraid. Our government has lost the common sense,” she added.

Aohna Namttpotkh (60) must look after a household of three people on the payment. “They are unemployed,” she said.

“This is the only money we have. It is only just covering us for what we vitally need.” 

A number of those making their daily pilgrimage to ATMs for €60 were concerned about a rise in crime as the cash shortages continued.

Mum-of-two Ereftheria (34) said she was worried about keeping money in her home, as robberies were increasing.

“I have a two-year-old and a two-month-old baby. It is really tough. I managed over the last week to get some money out, but it is dangerous to keep it at home. There have been more robberies, people I know, but I must have something in case I need it for my children. Even going to an ATM in the wrong area is dangerous. There are a lot of police at the machines which is good, but it’s still scary,” she said.

While hopes briefly blossomed that Syriza would cancel the referendum and return to talks, they were quickly quelled in a televised message from prime minister Alexis Tspiras shortly after 5pm. Reaction to the news that the referendum would go ahead was mixed. While a significant number of younger voters welcomed the decision, for older citizens it was a blow.

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Tourist businesses in the city are also suffering. Yanis Tziovaras works for the sightseeing company, Athens Happy Train. He explained how the numbers using the service had dropped off dramatically.

“We should have three trains running full at this time. But our first train had eight people and this one is empty,” he said.

“The tourists don’t know what to do and the locals have no money because the banks are closed. People don’t know what is going to happen next week, next year, in the next hour.”

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