More than 1,000 queue for food in rich Geneva amid virus shutdown

More than 1,000 people queued up on Saturday to get free food parcels in Geneva, underscoring the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the working poor and undocumented immigrants even in wealthy Switzerland.

The line of people stretched for more than 1 km (half a mile) outside an ice rink where volunteers were handing out around 1,500 parcels to people who started queuing as early as 5am.

“At the end of the month, my pockets are empty. We have to pay the bills, the insurance, everything,” said Ingrid Berala, a Geneva resident from Nicaragua who works part-time. “This is great, because there is food for a week, a week of relief...I don’t know for next week.”

In a nation of nearly 8.6 million, 660,000 people in Switzerland were poor in 2018, charity Caritas says, particularly single parents and those with a low level of education unable to find work after losing a job.

More than 1.1 million people were at risk of poverty, which means they have less than 60 per cent of the median income, which was 6,538 Swiss francs ($6,736) for a full-time job in 2018.

“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’.”

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.

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