THESSALONIKI – After first being charged with manslaughter and ordered deported because her 13-year-old daughter died from breathing carbon monoxide from a makeshift stove set up because the electricity was turned off for non-payment, a 54-year-old Serbian woman was granted a six-month reprieve from deportation by Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias.
The tragedy of the girl’s death from inhaling noxious fumes from the jury-rigged heating device highlighted the plight of the poor in Greece who can’t afford to pay their power bills during a crushing economic crisis that has seen big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions.
The price of oil has skyrocketed because of big tax hikes and the government has been trying to fill the gap with subsidies, but many Greeks either go without heat or burn wood, plastic, chairs, construction materials, hay, paper and whatever they can find, sometimes in dangerous conditions indoors.
After originally being detained and charged with neglect while she was still mourning her daughter’s loss, a Thessaloniki prosecutor intervened and ordered that she not be kept in custody. The woman was also ordered initially to leave the country within 30 days after police determined that she was in Greece illegally.
But Dendias responding to public outrage over her treatment, ordered that the unnamed woman, who has been living in Greece with her daughter for nearly a decade, be granted a six-month residence permit that will allow her to stay in the country. She has also been granted the right to apply for a renewal after its expiration.
Media reports said she was unemployed and was using a brazier to heat her home after the power was cut off as she owed 1,000 euros in unpaid bills. She is thought to have fainted before regaining consciousness long enough to call for help when she saw that her daughter was also unconscious.
She was to take her daughter’s remains to Serbia for burial on Dec. 5. The Municipality of Thessaloniki has offered to pay for the transfer and the service.
To qualify for international rescue loans, Greece has been imposing harsh austerity measures that has created record unemployment and pushed 20 percent of people into poverty. Thousands no longer have heating in their homes, unable to afford heating oil or high electricity bills.
When he was finance minister in a previous government, current Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos, the PASOK Socialist leader, doubled property taxes and had them inserted in electric bills with the threat of having power turned off for non-payment. Already this year, a school in northern Greece has closed because there’s no money to buy oil.
Last winter, the burning of materials in fireplaces and stoves created what environmentalists said was dangerous smog over Athens and other cities and towns across Greece.