It is a city more commonly associated with the vast wealth of the financial world, but more than 1,000 people queued up in Geneva on Saturday to get free food parcels.
In a sign of the devastating impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on Switzerland’s poorest, including undocumented migrants, a line of people stretched more than half a mile outside of an ice rink where volunteers handed out around 1,500 parcels. Some of those queuing had arrived as early as 5am. A small child was pictured among the crowd waiting in line.
“At the end of the month, my pockets are empty. We have to pay the bills, the insurance, everything,” Ingrid Berala, a Geneva resident from Nicaragua who works part-time, told Reuters. “This is great, because there is food for a week, a week of relief … I don’t know for next week.”
As many as 660,000 people in the country of 8.6 million were poor in 2018, according to charity Caritas, particularly single parents and those with a low level of education unable to find work after losing work.
More than 1.1 million people were at risk of poverty, meaning they receive less than 60% of the median income, which was 6,538 Swiss francs ($6,736) for a full-time job in 2018.
Geneva is the second-most expensive global city for a family of three to live in, behind only Zurich. Although average incomes are also high, that helps little for people struggling to make ends meet.
“I think a lot people are aware of this, but it is different to see this with your own eyes,” said Silvana Matromatteo, head of the aid group Geneva Solidarity Caravan.
We had people in tears who said ‘It is not possible that it is happening in my country’. But it is here and maybe the Covid-19 brought everything out and this is good, because we will be able to take measures to support all these workers, because they are workers above all.”
Patrick Wieland, chief of mission for the Doctors Without Borders group, said a survey last week showed just over half the food recipients interviewed were undocumented, while others had attained legal status, were Swiss or were seeking asylum. Just over 3% had been tested positive for Covid-19, three times the overall rate in Geneva, which he attributed to poor and overcrowded housing.
One undocumented immigrant who called himself Fernando said he lost his restaurant job during the crisis and had no pay. “I’m very grateful to receive this help and if the situation changes for me, I am committing to do the same thing that they are doing for me,” he said.
Nicola Slawson (now); Simon Murphy and Rebecca Ratcliffe (earlier)