Solidarity during COVID-19: Switzerland and France

A new Swiss stamp to celebrate the solidarity COVID has fostered. Photo: La Poste Suisse

The beginning of spring has brought blooming solidarity. Despite the isolation and the social distancing, many communities have found new ways to support and help each other. Numerous community groups, associations, solidarity groups and NGOs have increased their work to help people, offer hope, and raise awareness of issues not in the media spotlight.

Solidarity in Switzerland

In Switzerland, the slopes of the famous Matterhorn mountain – which sits on the border with Italy – were illuminated with giant messages of hope and solidarity during the worst of the outbreak in Italy. The local artist who had the idea, Gerry Hofsteder, said that “the idea was to do something nice for people all around the world.” But Switzerland also showed solidarity with its neighbours medically, taking thousands of COVID patients across the border into Swiss facilities from saturated French and Italian hospitals.

Catena della Solidarità (Swiss Solidarity) has been collaborating with the Swiss Red Cross and Caritas Switzerland. Their work has focused on people who were already economically marginalised prior to the pandemic; people who are unable to apply for unemployment/welfare support, older people and people with disabilities (especially where living alone), and homeless people without shelter or healthcare.

SOSF (Solidarité sans Frontières), an information centre dealing with migration, asylum and racism, has been extremely active during this period. SOSF has focused on people who have been further marginalised. Since the beginning of the pandemic, SOSF has been denouncing the lack of government measures for asylum seekers, who had been the most exposed to COVID-19 because of their precarious living conditions, absence of educational material, and lack of hygiene and information.

Another example is the Swiss platform against human trafficking, an association of four Swiss organisations advocating for the rights of people who have been trafficked. During this emergency, the association is helping vulnerable people – through donations and volunteers – providing them food and essential goods.

Solidarity in France

During the pandemic the French association, GISTI (Groupe d’information et de soutien des immigrées) has been providing news and information about the impact of COVID-19 on people seeking sanctuary in Europe. GISTI has been reporting the living conditions of people in the French camps, denouncing the violation of their human rights.

The French government has launched “Je veux aider – Réserve civique Covid-19”, a website which matches people who want to volunteer with initiativJe veux aider – Réserve civique Covid-19es in need of support during the COVID pandemic. The French government’s aim was to “limit the social impact of the health crisis” by asking members of the public for help in distributing food, offering childcare for medical staff etc. Within days of its launch, over 100,000 people had joined the platform – a number which has since tripled. The aim is to now keep many of these volunteers mobilised in other forms of solidarity, with 74% of them in one region saying they’d continue to offer their time in Future.

Solidarity after the pandemic

This season has represented, on the one hand, the outbreak of a global crisis due to the COVID-19; on the other hand, a spring of solidarity. Will this altruistic spirit continue throughout and after the pandemic?

The opportunity ahead is for solidarity to become a more integral part of a new empathetic politics reflected nationally and at the European-level. We can start by recognising the roles that many carers, and low paid workers play in our societies. And the contributions of those doing high risk jobs, hospital staff, pharmacists, cashiers, bus drivers…. Many are women, and people born outside of Europe. Their efforts are not just reduced to their economic contribution, but their whole humanity and dignity must be recognised.

Cristina Mura is a graduate of the Università per Stranieri di Siena, and a European affairs analyst based in Egypt.

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