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For many Greeks abroad: "transaction cannot be approved"

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Life was already tough for Vassilis, who left Athens last month to seek work in London with around 2,000 pounds in his pocket, as he failed to land a job as quickly as he had hoped.

[LONDON] Life was already tough for Vassilis, who left Athens last month to seek work in London with around 2,000 pounds in his pocket, as he failed to land a job as quickly as he had hoped.

In the past few days it has got a lot tougher. He has money in his Greek bank account, but a 60 euro cap on bank withdrawals imposed last weekend means he cannot access it without the high fees for each small amount eating up his savings.

Having spent more than half of his cash on accommodation, food and travel, the 38-year-old electronics engineer is now in a race against time to establish a foothold in England before he has to use up the last of his banknotes on a plane ticket home.

"These people in Greece have destroyed me," he said, declining to give his full name. "If they don't raise the limit on cash withdrawals, I can't continue to live here, and I want to live here in England because I want to find a job," said Vassilis, who quit his homeland after being unemployed for years.

Long lines have formed at cash machines in Greece since banks closed on Monday and in Britain, where thousands of Greeks have come to work, study or visit family and friends, many say their debit and credit cards have failed in ATMs or when they try to buy online.

A Greek foreign ministry document dated June 30th, sent to Greek embassies and seen by Reuters, suggested authorities were trying to mitigate the impact of capital controls on Greeks abroad, particularly students and tourists.

But days later many were still encountering ATM messages such as, "The selected transaction cannot be approved at this time. Please contact your card issuer." For others, even the most inexpensive and essential online transactions have failed to go through.

Katerina Kyrgiou, 24, who came to England the day after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a snap public vote on the last cash-for-reforms offer from Greece's creditors before its bailout ran out, said she was unable to use her Greek bank card to book a fare.

"I tried the day before yesterday to buy a coach ticket for 15 pounds from Nottingham to London and the website wouldn't let me," she said.

She had sought to withdraw cash on Saturday from Athens airport before leaving for England to visit a friend but the cash dispensers had run dry. "I have to be very careful and I'm worried because if you run out of money, then what are you going to do?" she said.

The Greek consulate in London said only a handful of people had contacted them in recent days with such problems but they had helped one boy who missed his flight and was unable to use his Greek card to rebook a flight home.

In the end his parents had to find the cash and pay at Athens airport.

Many Greeks are having to rely on the support of friends and family.

Dimitri Augustidis, 45, told Reuters that the night Tsipras announced the referendum, two friends of his ran into difficulties in the Northern Irish city of Londonderry, where they had arrived a week earlier to look for work.

"They arrived at the worst possible time, they only had 40 pounds on Friday night ... after having paid for the hotel deposit, the first night there and other costs," he said.

Mr Augustidis transferred money from his account to that of the hotel owner, asking her to give the amount in cash to his friends.

Vassilis is now in Birmingham after failing to find work in London. As the clock ticks down to Sunday's referendum and the Greek government urges voters to reject the creditors' offer, he reflects the helplessness felt by many overseas Greeks who can neither vote from abroad nor return home but have their destiny tied to the fate of their nation of 11 million people.

"If I were in Greece I might have even voted 'No'," he said. "I can't vote either 'Yes' or 'No' at this point but I'm trying to look after myself."

REUTERS

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