Home Latest News COVID-19 blockade hits Berlin's unemployed, homeless and refugees | Germany

COVID-19 blockade hits Berlin's unemployed, homeless and refugees | Germany

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<pre><pre>COVID-19 blockade hits Berlin's unemployed, homeless and refugees | Germany
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Names marked with an asterisk * have been changed to protect identities.

Berlin Germany – The past two weeks have been difficult for Diana *, who arrived in Berlin from Switzerland a few months ago.

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I was about to make ends meet with a teaching job and a modeling job, when tThe outbreak of the new coronavirus changed her daily life, making her vulnerable life situation more precarious.

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She has been fired from her teaching role and without the backing of a contract, which her boss declined to provide, Diana is not sure that she will even receive her pending paycheck.

You still have to register in your new city, so accessing social security assistance is also not an option for 25-year-olds.

"It all happened so fast," Diana told Al Jazeera. "A week before things closed, I got sick, and right after that, my boss told me to go get my things because I wasn't going to teach for at least five weeks. And that was it. Switzerland is not no it is part of the EU (European Union), and that makes things more difficult. At the moment I cannot get support from there or from Germany. "

Diana contacted a space she had once modeled for. Located in the east of the city, Karada House has gone from being a collaborative queer art space that organizes workshops and events, to a volunteer-led aid collective that provides assistance to those who have slipped through the cracks in the welfare system from the country.

In just a couple of weeks, the handful of housebound volunteers, most of whom have never met, have raised nearly 10,000 euros ($ 11,027) through a crowdfunding campaign.

They have also been connecting volunteers with people in the city who need food, medical or mental health assistance.

Beatrice Behn, volunteer coordinator and artist, told Al Jazeera: "We are mainly dealing with young people who have chronic diseases or are disabled, or those who are already in very fragile situations."

"Many of them are sliding down the net because they are not German, or because of the city's housing problems. People are desperate to find a flat, so they live on subleases or semi-legal housing contracts, which which means they can't fully register here and access any service. "

Along with neighborhood groups offering help to those who are sick, elderly, or in need of childcare, others provide resources for sex workers, offer video therapy sessions, and work to protect the city's cultural scene, including its industry. clubs and the art community.

Al Jazeera also spoke to a school teacher who is concerned that students in his elementary school class, mainly from lower-income or minority German backgrounds, may fall behind, so he is doing individual lessons over the phone.

Diana, who will use the money she received from Karada to cover part of her monthly rent and food, hopes that the solidarity will continue.

For Wilhelm Nadolny, the closure has meant that each day at the homeless day center he runs has been different.

Nadolny is the director of the Bahnhofsmission Zoologischer Garten, a shelter next to a busy central station.

It is part of the Berliner Stadtmission, which for almost 150 years has provided assistance to the elderly, refugees and children, making it one of the oldest social support centers in the city.

Without self-insulating housing, access to limited health services and toilets, people living on the streets are particularly vulnerable.

According to Berlin first official census In its homeless population published earlier this year, there are almost 2,000 people living on the streets of the German capital.

Social workers, however, say the figure should be met with caution as it does not include those living on private property or in abandoned buildings.

With the ban on large gatherings temporarily closing homeless day centers, Nadolny says they are seeing some new faces.

Its 24-hour center is usually open seven days a week, year-round, and is maintained by several elderly volunteers.

But older volunteers no longer enter, and the center, which generally cares for around 600 people daily, operates on a reduced schedule with the help of a smaller, younger team.

Before the pandemic, the main feeding area could accommodate 60 people, including 10 volunteers, and access to the toilet was easier.

Now bags of food with sandwiches, apples and plums are delivered from a window and distribution times are staggered to limit human contact.

"Everyone here is trying to stay calm and focused. We wash our hands regularly and use disinfectant, and the shower is used less. We're taking each day as it comes and doing our best," Nadolny said. "We cannot say what will be waiting for us next week, or even tomorrow."

Other high-risk Berlin residents are those who live in refugee accommodation.

According to state authorities, there are 20,000 people living in 83 shelters, and most have a maximum capacity of 350.

So far, 10 positive cases of coronavirus have emerged within city shelters, with one death.

Throughout Germany, a reported 21 people living in refugee accommodation have already contracted the virus.

The State Office for Refugee Affairs in Berlin told Al Jazeera that it has implemented a number of measures, including providing hygiene information and emphasizing the importance of quarantine, and a multi-language podcast is being developed.

Activists, however, say more needs to be done to reduce the risks for those living in inadequate shared housing.

A spokeswoman for Women in Exile, a grassroots organization led by refugees, told Al Jazeera: "It is difficult for us to know what is happening. There is not enough official material being translated and there is a lot of fear, but people have no alternative. "

The pandemic has also increased calls nationwide to close large refugee shelters and house people in safer and cleaner homes.

As residents of the German capital adjust to an indefinite period behind closed doors, those on the front line say that community support is more necessary than ever.

"It is a very human thing to do, to come together as a community in times of crisis and somehow we are going back to the roots right now, which is very good to see because we are all in this together," he said. Behn, the Karada House volunteer. "I think most people have realized that there are no exceptions to the virus, so things must change now."

As older volunteers no longer enter, the homeless center has fewer volunteers and has had to reduce its hours of service (Gouri Sharma / Al Jazeera)

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