During the pandemic, people endured hours of wind and weather to receive free food. The economy is now booming again, but the queues in front of the grocery store haven’t got any shorter. On the contrary: the number of people queuing for a few kilos of rice, pasta and fresh vegetables has multiplied since March. The reason for this is the war in Ukraine.
The Schweizer Tafel has been delivering 20 percent more food since the arrival of the Ukraine refugees, according to manager Marc Ingold (56). The organization collects surplus products from retailers and distributes them to social institutions. The Zurich relief organization Essen for All is distributing three times more food. In February, 600 families and individuals were given free packages, says spokeswoman Dina Hungerbühler (30). A week ago there were 1,800. “A large proportion of them are refugees from Ukraine,” notes Hungerbühler.
Depending on the canton, 10 to 23 francs a day
The association Incontro in Zurich even has to ration the free meals and bags of food because of the large rush. “Sometimes there is only one meal for a whole family,” says Pastor Karl Wolf (67). “Of course we try to avoid that, but unfortunately it’s not always possible.” And in Basel, the Christian aid organization DaN feels compelled to turn away people arriving from other regions.
Refugees who wait for hours for free food, aid organizations who run out of food – what is going wrong in wealthy Switzerland?
Sister Ariane (49) from the Incontro association sees the problem primarily in the lack of support from the state. “The money that the refugees receive is not enough for a dignified life.” The situation is particularly precarious for those who are waiting for protection status S and are not entitled to asylum social assistance.
But even with the protection status S you live precariously. Depending on the canton, the refugees receive between CHF 10 and CHF 23 per day – for food, clothes, shampoo and medication.
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But there are probably other reasons for the increased demand for free groceries in the cities. Marc Ingold from the Schweizer Tafel notes that many refugees do not know that they can get food vouchers from the local Red Cross. “The communities apparently communicate this too little,” says Ingold. As a result, a family from distant Neuchâtel Val-de-Travers turned up at the Schweizer Tafel branch in Bern – even though the organization supplies institutions and does not offer individual help.
Because the Ukrainian women can travel by train and bus for free and are well networked with each other, word of the offers in the cities would spread quickly, adds Ingold.
Dina Hungerbühler from the Essen for All association also gives different reasons why refugees are queuing for free food. “Some tell us they don’t have enough money.” Others live in collective shelters where there is food, but want to cook for themselves again. Third parties, on the other hand, wanted to please their host family with a cooked meal, says Hungerbühler. “They want to give something back.”