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The Greek Diaspora Around the World

Greek diaspora
Greek dancing at the Greek Festival in Atlanta. Credit:Pawel Loj/ CC BY 2.0

From ancient times to the modern day, Greeks of the diaspora, or those who have left their native land to make a home abroad, have enriched the international community in the fields of medicine, technology, arts, culture, and academia.

According to the latest estimates of the General Secretariat of Hellenes Abroad, today there are more than 5,000,000 people of Greek origin that live outside of the Greek borders, scattered around 140 countries across the globe.

While Greeks can be found in countless nations across the world, there are certain places that are known as hubs for the Hellenic community, where the language, traditions, and culture of Greece live on through members of the diaspora who keep their link to the country alive.

The countries with the most people of Greek descent outside of Greece are the US, Germany, Australia, Canada, the UK, and Albania.

Greek-Americans and the Greek success story

The United States is home to the largest population of those of Greek descent outside of Greece with over 3 million Greek-Americans, mainly third or fourth generation immigrants, residing in the country.

Other estimations of the Greek-American population number the community at just over one million, but the accuracy of this data has been disputed due to data collection methods.

Many Greek-Americans have married outside of the community, changed their names, converted or become secular, so measuring Greek-Americans by surnames or religion does not provide a complete picture.

Regardless of the number of Greeks in the country, Greek-Americans have undeniably had a massive impact on American life.

The fact that many American cities have their own Greek districts or towns, full of authentic Greek tavernas, bakeries, and stores, serves as proof of the Greek community’s influence on the country.

New York City, Chicago, and Boston are known internationally for their strong Greek communities, but there is a large Hellenic presence in other parts of the US, such as in Florida and across New England.

Greek immigration to the US began after the Greek War of Independence in the nineteenth century, when many Greeks from rural areas left the country to find work in America.

The wave of immigration continued through the early 20th century but peaked yet again in the 1950s and 1960s after the Greek Civil War.

Greek diaspora
Greek-Australians on Australia Day. Credit: Chris Phutully/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 2.0

Greeks in Australia keep traditions alive

Numbering over 600,000, according to recent estimates, Greek-Australians are the seventh-largest ethnic group in Australia, adding their culture, traditions, and language to the fabric of the country.

Melbourne, located in the state of Victoria, is currently the most concentrated center of the Greek diaspora, as it is home to the largest Greek population outside of Greece.

With as many as 400,000 Greek-Australians residing in the city (although some conservative estimates claim the community’s population to be just over 170,000), Melbourne is also home to the most Greek-Australians in the entire country.

Greek immigration to Melbourne has a long history, spanning back to the 1850s, when the region experienced a gold rush, inspiring a massive wave of immigrants from Greece.

Since then, Greeks in Melbourne have retained their connection to their culture and language. The city is home to the most Greek speakers outside of Greece, and it’s one of the most frequently heard languages on the streets of Melbourne.

Many Greek-Australians have made a home in Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, as well, but the community in Melbourne is widely considered the most well-established in the country.

Canada is home to nearly 300,000 people of the Greek diaspora

Canada is also home to a thriving Greek community, mainly centered in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.

According to a 2016 census, there are 271,405 Canadians of Greek descent in the country, and an estimated 62,715 Greek-born residents living in Canada.

Greek immigrants, many hailing from the Peloponnese, began to arrive in Canada in the nineteenth century. The first hub of the Greek-Canadian community was Montreal, where immigrants formed tight bonds and established themselves in the city.

Canada’s discriminatory preference for immigrants from Northern and Western Europe impeded a great number of Greeks from entering the country through to the twentieth century, however.

It was only after the Second World War that the country welcomed immigrants from Southern Europe, and Greeks began to flow into Canada in the post-war period, with the year 1967 serving as the peak of Greek immigration to the country.

Greek diaspora
St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in London. Credit: David Illif /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Germany and the UK, home to historic Greek communities

The economic crisis in Greece left many young people without hope of finding a well-paying job in Greece, causing waves of Greeks to leave the country in its wake.

In search of better opportunities, many Greeks went to the UK and Germany, home to an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 and 453,000 people of Greek descent, respectively.

Although a large number of Greeks moved to the European countries in recent years, there is a long history of immigration from Greece to both Germany and the UK, spanning centuries.

The first Greek community in Germany was established in the city of Leipzig, in Saxony, in the eighteenth century. During this period, Greeks who were able to flee the yoke of the Ottoman occupation packed up their few possessions and ran to Leipzig.

More Greeks moved to Germany just after the Greek War of Independence, as Greece’s first king, a Bavarian, took the throne. Inspired by their king’s ancestry, many Greek citizens went to his native region to study.

Greek communities in the UK can be traced back to ancient times, when the Romans colonized the British Isles. Immigration from Greece continued through the middle ages all the way to the modern period.

After England colonized Cyprus in 1878, the Greek population in the country boomed, with many Greek Cypriots making a home in England from the early twentieth century up until the British left the island in 1960.

According to recent data, there are over 57,000 residents of the UK who were born in Greece, a great number of which are students. Greece consistently ranks among the top countries of origin of foreign students in the UK, along with China and India.

The Greek minority in Albania

Although widely considered unreliable, Albania’s recent census data claims that there are only 25,000 Greeks living in the country.

Other estimates number Albania’s persecuted Greek community, including those of Greek descent and those with Greek passports, to be around 250,000 to 300,000.

Bordering Greece on the north, Albania’s proximity to the country makes the presence of a large ethnically Greek population there unsurprising.

The great majority of Greeks in Albania are confined to the south of the country, which is located just above Epirus in northwestern Greece. Greeks from this region of Albania are called Northern Epirotes, and they’re a recognized minority group by the Albanian state.

Despite their recognition by the government, Northern Epirotes have been oppressed by the country’s “minority zones,” the only places in the country where the Greek language can be spoken and Greek traditions followed.

Additionally, Greek minority groups in Albania have accused the country of under-reporting the population of Northern Epirotes in the country, and have released their own census data.

Their figures show that the minority population numbers in the hundreds of thousands in Albania, data that is disputed by the Albanian government.

Due to these restrictive policies, an estimated 80% of Northern Epirotes have returned to Greece in recent years.

Panama City, Panama. Credit: Greek Reporter

Latin America and the Greek diaspora

Despite its distance from Greece, Latin America is home to may Greeks of the diaspora, who find the warm, family-centered Latin American culture very familiar.

The Greek community is particularly large in Chile, where an estimated 120,000 people of Greek descent live.

Greek-Chileans mainly in the capital city of Santiago, as well as a historically Greek town called Antofagasta.

The historic Greek-Chilean community has been in the country since the 16th century, after Greeks from the island of Crete emigrated to Chile. However, the vast majority of Greeks in the country arrived there in the early twentieth century, mainly those involved in sailing and shipping.

There is also a small but thriving Greek community in Panama, the bridge between Central and South America. Due to the Panama Canal, which links the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, the country has a deep connection with shipping and sailing.

Greeks have navigated the seas since antiquity, and have a strong presence anywhere that involves seafaring and shipping.

The vast majority of the 1,000 Panamanians of Greek descent either arrived in the country to construct the canal, or are the descendants of those who worked on the impressive waterway.

Since their arrival in the country, Greeks have become an integral part of the country, forming bonds with other communities, establishing Greek Orthodox churches, and constructing the only Greek language school in Latin America.

Greeks have even reached the highest offices in the country. Demetrio Basilio Lakas Bahas, the country’s 27th President, was the son of Greek immigrants.

An even smaller yet prominent group of Greeks live in the neighboring country of Colombia, particularly in the capital city of Bogota, where the estimated 150 Greeks living there have kept their link to Greece alive, opening successful restaurants and businesses.

The ancient roots of Greek communities in the Egypt and Syria

The movement of people to and from Greece and its Mediterranean neighbors, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, has been widespread since antiquity.

Due to historical and cultural connections between countries in the region, Greek communities are commonly found across the region, but especially in Egypt.

There have been Greeks living in Egypt for thousands of years, contributing to the country’s culture, history, and society, yet many were forced to leave the country after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.

Many prominent figures of the modern period, such as the poet Cavafy, and countless ancient scientists, rulers, and philosophers, including Cleopatra, Hypatia, and Ptolemy were Greeks living in Egypt.

Currently, the once thriving Greek community has been reduced to just 5,000, but some historians argue that the figure does not represent the true amount of Greeks living in the country, as many officially changed their nationality to Egyptian after the Revolution.

A great number of Greek-Egyptians have left the country to return to Greece, or find other opportunities in Europe and America.

The ancient Greek and Roman city of Apamea in Syria. Credit: Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Syria is another historic home to Greeks, as they have been in the war-torn country since the 7th century BC.

Greeks even came to the country after they defeated the Ottomans in the Greek War of Independence to help liberate Syria from its brutal occupation by the same oppressor.

Currently, there are around 12,500 Greeks living in the country, 8,000 of whom descend from Muslim Greeks from the island of Crete when it was under Ottoman Occupation.

The great majority of this Greek-speaking Muslim community live in the village of Al-Hamidiyah, located on the border with Lebanon.

There is also, however, a large number of Greek Orthodox Christians in Syria, who live alongside Syria’s relatively large Arab Christian community. There is also a Greek language school in Damascus, Syria’s capital.

The true number of Greeks living in Syria is unclear, however, due to the country’s violent civil war. Many Greeks have left the country, returning to Greece or fleeing to other European countries.

Greek diaspora in South Africa

Greek diaspora
A group of Greeks in South Africa posing together sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Credit: Antonis Chaldeos

Despite being persecuted and discriminated against for decades, Greeks in South Africa managed to rise socially and prosper, with several of them becoming very successful and wealthy. Today, they remain one of the most important beacons of Hellenism among the Diaspora.

Until the 1930s, Greeks were mostly in the business of owning and operating tea rooms, i.e. places that served coffee, tea and food. In the beginning they had canteens that opened in the cities, and mainly in Johannesburg, the city with the largest population. Later, they opened tea rooms that also grew over the years there.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the small tea rooms and shops owned by Greeks grew into  supermarkets, with branches all over the country. The Greeks were also pioneers in the production and standardization of tobacco products in South Africa.

And there was more: Beverage and water bottling factories, ore processing factories and shipping companies were some of the other major businesses owned by Greeks.

The greatest migration flow took place after 1950 and mainly after 1960. After the end of the World War II in Greece, several thousand Greeks went to South Africa, which at that time was looking for Europeans. At that time, Greeks from African countries gaining their independence, such as Egypt, Sudan and the Congo, migrated to South Africa.

Around 1970, the Greek community numbered 120,000 people, but began to decline after 1976, when native Africans began their attempt to regain political control over their country, which had long been ruled by whites.

Today the Greeks of South Africa today number only about 35,000.

Greek diaspora
George Bizos died in September 2020. Credit: Aya Chebbi/CC BY 2.0/ Wikipedia Commons

Greeks, as a rule tried to stay away from politics; But, one Greek man in particular became world-famous on the side of Nelson Mandela: George Bizos, who was Mandela’s lawyer and one of the three writers of South Africa’s Constitution.

His name is linked to the struggle against racism, xenophobia, and apartheid and the values of solidarity, human rights and democracy.

Another Greek who became famous, perhaps for the wrong reasons, was Dimitri Tsafendas, who murdered one of staunchest defenders of apartheid, South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd on September 6, 1966.

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