Hundreds of Ukrainians queued in central Zurich on Saturday for food handouts as wealthy Switzerland struggled to cope with the entry of roughly 40,000 refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
Officially housed refugees receive some financial assistance from the government, but it is rarely enough to get by in a country where the cost of living is among the highest in the world.
According to the government, roughly half of those staying with private host families fall through the cracks of the assistance system entirely.
As evidenced by the enormous line outside a Zurich charity’s food bank on Saturday, many Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion are turning to Swiss charities for food, clothing, and medical treatment.
Kristina and her 7-year-old daughter, who arrived from Kyiv on March 3 to stay with a Ukrainian family friend in Zurich, were among those queuing outside an Essen fuer Alle (Food for All) food distribution center beside railroad lines.
“We come here to take food because we’re hungry,” Kristina, 42, who did not give her last name, added. “Our volunteer (host) is unable to provide food on a consistent basis. She’s exhausted, and she doesn’t have a lot of money.”
According to Ariane Stocklin of Christian relief initiative incontro, hers is a frequent story.
“Some refugees are housed with families who cannot afford to feed them. Others are housed in detention centers with minimal nourishment. There is a lot of demand, as we can see “Stocklin explained.
In some parts of Switzerland, support payments to migrants were insufficient even before the Ukraine crisis.
In 2017, Zurich voters agreed to reduce refugee welfare payments to about 500 Swiss francs ($522) per month, which is 30% less than ordinary social welfare levels.
People sheltered by the authorities, according to Heike Isselhorst, a spokesperson for Zurich’s social service department, had their basic needs met.
She said, however, that there was no mechanism in place to assist refugees live with host families.
Gaby Szoelloesy, the coordinator of cantonal social welfare agencies, apologized to host families who had been left out in the cold this week.
“However, it is just extremely difficult if we are unaware of the host family’s commitment because it was not communicated through formal means,” she said at a press conference.
While the government has taken the uncommon step of enabling Ukrainian refugees to apply for temporary residency and work permits, this does little to help the struggling refugees who are staying with host families.
Anna, a 38-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, came in Winterthur, a Zurich suburb, in late February with her two young children and mother. They share a room with a friend’s parents.
“When we first arrived, we slept in a refugee center, but it was not a suitable environment for the kids, with no privacy and poor food. They even checked us when we returned from outdoors “she stated.