France's students rely on food handouts

Every Tuesday evening, Chaimae Irfaq hands out food parcels to dozens of struggling students in the foyer of her Paris university residence, and takes one home for herself.

She arrived in France in October to complete her business studies degree, and had expected to work part-time jobs to supplement the monthly allowance her father gives her.

But with bars and restaurants closed, the jobs that students have traditionally relied on to pay tuition fees, rent and living expenses, are hard to come by.

"If I had a job, I wouldn't need the 'Restos du Coeur's’ food aid. I would just keep on volunteering with them because there are lots of people who are more in need than I am. But right now, we students are in a situation in which we really need the 'Restos' and other NGO's help."

The half-dozen charities distributing food in Paris say the number of students seeking help jumped after the government put France back under lockdown and then a nightly curfew late last year.

With remote learning and a 12-hour curfew in place, there’s little for Irfaq to do outside her 20 square-meter room, and the monotony is taking its toll on her energy and motivation.

"It wasn't like I originally imagined. I was imagining a different student life, more open and more social. Instead, I find myself in this 20 square-meter room, with just my computer and me, far from my family and my friends. So sometimes I regret coming here this year but... it's okay."