Confined by lockdown, some students in France queue for donated food

Volunteers of the Ordre de Malte ('Order of Malta'), the French branch of the Malteser International aid agency, distribute coffee and food to homeless people in Paris, France, 27 March 2020. [Julien de Rosa/EPA/EFE]

Unable to work part-time jobs under the coronavirus lockdown, some students in French universities are surviving on food donated by the authorities as they struggle to meet living expenses.

Queuing for food handouts has become a ritual for many students trying to cope with the sudden financial pressure arising from curbs aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Foreign students are particularly affected, as they have no home they can easily to return to.

In the city of Orleans, in central France, students forced to stay in their dorm room under the lockdown receive milk, coffee, pasta and canned goods, as well as hygiene products.

In some cases they are granted vouchers to go shopping.

“Many students have lost the jobs that allowed them to feed themselves and pay their room rent,” said Alexis Boche, a member of the school and university union FSU.

Most of the students confined to their dorms are foreigners coming from regions such as Africa and Asia.

The university of Orleans’ president, Ary Bruant, said that out of the institution’s 3,460 students, nearly 1,000 students had reported “major difficulties” in paying their rent or buying basic necessities.

Most of them, Bruant said, are foreign students who do not have the luxury of returning home during the lockdown.

The university has turned a building usually used for teaching sciences into a distribution centre.

“Move forward, keeping a safe distance”, a member of the university staff told students while they queued to enter.

In the building, women and men wear protective gloves and masks to ensure safe distribution.

Fatokhoma, 28-year-old Senegalese student, was one of those receiving food.

“I live mainly with social aid and vouchers,” Fatokhoma told Reuters.

The young man, who declined to give his last name, said it was “stressful” to stay indoors all day in his less than 15-square-metre dorm room where he stores his food.

He said that he managed previously to earn money by tutoring before the COVID-19 crisis.

Before receiving the food students have to register with regional academic authorities, which have faced huge demand for the supplies they provide since the lockdown came into force.

France has now entered its sixth week in lockdown, which the government aims to ease from 11 May.

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