Europeans Start Over in Middle East

07/09/2012 8:30 am EST

Focus: GLOBAL

The global financial crisis has been more than numbers on balance sheets, as people from across nations have uprooted themselves and moved to the Gulf States as the new land of opportunity, reports Tom Arnold and Sean Cronin of The National.

When Nikolas Tsimidakis’s daughter was barely a month old, he made one of the hardest decisions of his life. Leaving his wife and child in Greece, he uprooted to Dubai to work as an executive chef.

It a was painful move, but he had little choice. Hotels in Greece were hit by a decline in tourism as the country’s fiscal crisis scared off visitors. As a result, many places were laying off staff or cutting wages.

"The opportunities in Greece were very bad," Tsimidakis says. "I didn’t have a job and salaries and insurance were going down and many were offering no pensions. The option was stay in Greece and get hungry or move overseas and find a better life."

A month and a half on, Tsimidakis plans to bring his family to join him in Dubai in September. "We will stay here three years or longer if the situation in Greece does not get better," says Tsimidakis, 33, who works at the Majestic Hotel in Dubai.

He is one of a growing number of Greeks who have switched from their homeland to the UAE in an effort to escape the impact of tough austerity measures and economic problems. More than 1,000 Greeks have left for the Emirates during the past year, bringing the total expatriate population from the country to more than 3,000.

Stella Giasta, 30, made the same move nine months ago to a job at the Majestic Hotel, where she works as a revenue manager. "The main reason I came here was a chance to grow my career, but the crisis made the reason to leave more urgent," she says.

Panos Psaltakis, a lawyer, relocated to Dubai after the pharmaceuticals company he worked for set up an office in the emirate. "I made my decision to come in December 2010," he says. "At the time, 70% or 80% of people I spoke to in Greece said, ‘You should stay.’ When I returned recently, 99% of them said, ’You’ve done the right thing.’"

Psaltakis, 30, blames Greece’s problems on successive governments using money from the European Union to grow the public sector to unsustainable levels.

Ireland: Young Economic Exiles Put Down Roots
It may not be the most obvious place to watch Irish national sports, but there are now an estimated 150 people playing regular Gaelic football and hurling in Dubai alone.

The numbers have doubled from five years ago, as an exodus of young Irish graduates arrives in the UAE. Many are exiles from an economic crisis in a country where unemployment is now touching 15% as a result of severe austerity measures imposed by the government after an €85 billion bailout from Brussels in 2010.

Off the playing field, the growing Irish presence in the Emirates can also be seen in the burgeoning numbers of members at the Irish Business Network (IBN). Dubbed “The Murphia” in other countries where Irish exiles have thrived, the UAE’s relatively new IBN has grown to some 300 signed-up members in less than two years.

“We are definitely seeing more Irish companies land here,” says the IBN chairman Brian Kingâ€"as close as it comes to a godfather for networked Irish business professionals in the Emirates. “There are a lot of highly educated 25- to 35-year-olds arriving.”

Spain: Forced to Find Work Overseas
Gonzalo Gaspar hopes to start a business in Spain one day. But the economic turmoil raging in his homeland is one of the major reasons he’s staying put in the UAE for now.

“I have a few extremely well-qualified friends of mine in Spain who have been searching for good jobs for a while. That shows how tough the situation is,” says Gaspar, 47, from Santander, who has lived in the UAE for five and a half years.

Working as a regional agent for the IE Business School, he has seen a growing number of young and educated Spaniards move to the Emirates as job opportunities in his homeland have dried up.

“They’re the lost generation as a lot of these people are leaving the country and may not come back,” he says. “You will emigrate, maybe meet a wonderful girl, and get a good job and enjoy working and playing hard in Dubai.”

The number of Spaniards in the UAE has almost doubled since 2008 to reach more than 2,200 people, according to the Embassy of Spain. While the rise is an indication of Spain’s unemployment challenge, it also reflects the country’s growing links with the UAE. Spanish exports to the Emirates rose 36.6% last year compared with the previous year. In addition, more than 100 Spanish companies operate in the UAE.

Mariano Andres has seen a growing number of Spanish people chomping down paella and tapas at Seville’s, the Spanish restaurant he manages in Dubai’s Wafi mall. He returned to Dubai two years ago after initially overseeing the launch of Seville’s 12 years ago. “I was around the 50th Spanish person in Dubai when I came and now there’s a lot more of us,” says the 40-year-old.

Andres sees his immediate future in Dubai: “The main problem in Spain has been in the last 15 or 20 years, we were building like crazy and too much of the economy was based on construction. When the crisis came, no one was investing in property anymore, and now we have 4 million people out of work in construction,” he says.

Read more from The National here…

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