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Greeks overseas, like ancient Odysseus, return to their motherland

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Since ancient times, Greeks have embarked from the shores of their homeland to seek better fortunes abroad. Homer was one of the first to describe the global wanderings of the ancient Greeks, who, like the protagonist in the Odyssey, founded new cities in the Mediterranean.

Now, for the first time in their modern history, Greeks are coming home in larger numbers than they are leaving.

Some, like Odysseus, always intended to return home for sentimental reasons. Others are motivated by the practical reasons that made them leave in the first place. But more than anything else, it is improved conditions in Greece, and rising unemployment in their host countries, that has resulted in Greece's falling emigration.

Vasilios Massios, a retired New York restaurant owner, returned here after working in the United States for 20 years.

''I enjoyed living in my adopted country, worked hard, and saved up enough money to come back home,'' he said. ''I love America, but I always intended to spend my retirement here because I am Greek. It's easy to understand why. You can never love your stepmother as much as your real mother.''

Of the 13.5 million Greeks in the world, 4.5 million live outside Greece, according to the Foreign Ministry. More than 3 million of them are in the US, 500,000 in Australia, and 300,000 in West Germany.

Another 60,000 fled to Eastern Europe after the defeat of the Communists in the Greek civil war in the late 1940s, but about half of them have returned. Recently, more have been encouraged to return by Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. Of the 800,000 Greeks seen strictly as migrant workers in the West, more than one-quarter have returned in the past five years.

The reverse migration trend started in 1974. In that year, for the first time since 1850, when statistics were first compiled, more Greeks returned home than emigrated: 24,476 returned, 24,448 left. By 1976, the most recent year statistics were gathered, the gap had widened to 32,067 returning and 20,374 leaving. Though figures for last year are not yet available, Pericles Economides of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Expatriates estimated that the rate of returnees to emigrants is now ''at least 5 to 1.''


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