Friday, 17 May 2019

Syriza unnerves creditors as it reaches for voters

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Greece’s Syriza government on Wednesday approved a slate of tax sweeteners and handouts worth well over a billion euros, as it tried to boost its popularity days ahead of European Parliament elections.

Opposition parties joined Syriza in voting for a measure that allows tax debtors to schedule their arrears in 120 instalments.

They also supported the government in lowering sales tax on food and restaurants from 24 percent to 13 percent.

More controversial was the government’s handout of a 13th monthly pension to 2.5 million retirees.

Syriza has promised further fiscal relaxation ahead of a general election due by October.

“We have a brand and we have recognition value in Europe. It is a left wing brand and we shall contest the next election as the left and win it as the left,” finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told parliament.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Second Tree picks up the challenge of refugee integration

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Students in Second Tree’s English class near Katsikas camp

Sarah hands out slips of paper to her class, each with a verb in the present tense. Her 13 students must come up to the whiteboard and write the appropriate past tense for their verb, and then pronounce it.

Reza, from Afghanistan, correctly writes “tried”, but he produces peals of laughter from Riat, a Somali, when he says, “I cried to learn.” Riat is clearly the star of the class. She whispers everybody’s answer correctly to herself; but even she doesn’t understand how the aorist of leave can be “left”. Nor does anyone else. “Left, right?” asks one student.

Sarah is an English teacher for Second Tree, an aid group made entirely of volunteers. Her wards are adult refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They assemble every weekday morning in a 25sqm schoolhouse of unfinished lumber hammered together by volunteers. It sits in the parking lot of a defunct furniture factory across the street from Katsikas refugee camp, near Ioannina in northwest Greece.