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Coronavirus: Meet the EU nationals left homeless and hungry by London's lockdown

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Virus Outbreak Britain
Virus Outbreak Britain   -   Copyright  Alberto Pezzali/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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“I worked in a restaurant, I lost my job and I couldn’t afford my rent.”

Paulo Palrao from Portugal was fired eight weeks ago just before London was put on lockdown to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Now, like other Europeans who worked in London’s hospitality sector, he’s unemployed and homeless.

"I have nowhere to go, it’s been crazy, I have no food, no nothing,” he said.

Charities and local organisations in London told Euronews they have seen an increase in people living on the streets and that many of them are EU27 nationals.

They say most of them used to work in restaurants or bars that have closed because of the lockdown.

EU27 nationals make up around 12 per cent of the UK hospitality sector, according to the Office for National Statistics, and three-quarters of waiting staff.

Lockdown forced restaurants to temporarily close. Owners fired, put their workers on paid leave or gave them temporary unpaid leave, often with the government paying a share of the salary.

Trafalgar Square in central London is normally bustling with tourists. Now the homeless queue up there, every day, to receive food. Many waiting for a meal are people newly homeless, like George Botezatu who is from Romania and used to clean offices for a living.

"This has affected me because my job was closed and so I can't work anymore," George said.

Organisations that come to their aid — despite the restrictions — say people living on the streets are even more at risk because of the lockdown.

“This is the worst time to become homeless because there’s nothing around," said Mikkel Juel Iversen, founder of the homeless collective Under One Sky. "Normally you can get some scraps, there are centres open, but now there’s nothing.”*

Charities and restaurants have stepped in to fill the gap left after the city’s day centres for the homeless were closed amid lockdown.

Punjab, the oldest Indian restaurant in London, has kept its kitchens open and is making hundreds of meals a day for the homeless, packing and distributing them around the capital.

The owner of the restaurant says he is shocked by the way people in the hospitality sector have been treated.

"They are living hand to mouth because they were fired straight away and were not put on unpaid leave or furloughed and that's a scandal," Amrit Mann, the owner of Punjab told Euronews.

Many recently-redundant Europeans who live in London are now finding themselves in no man’s land, with no access to repatriation flights, very few savings and no way of earning a living.

The UK government says it has housed 90 per cent of those who were sleeping rough nationwide by paying for hotel rooms. 1,800 people have been housed in 10 hotels across London alone.

But for some who represent homeless charities in the capital, the concern is not just now but what happens next.

“The hotels that are open at the moment will be running for around six weeks or so is our understanding and there isn’t any clarity about what happens after that time," said Lucy Abraham, CEO of homeless charity Glass Door.

She added: "Many staying in hotels at the moment have no recourse for public funds – a lot of the Europeans staying haven’t been in the UK for five years. So they’re not eligible for settled status.”

Brian Whiting, who works for Under One Sky, feels those who've been made homeless after doing essential jobs don't deserve the hand they've been dealt.

"All the things that we rely on, our coffee in the morning, our streets being cleaned, new buildings being constructed in the city, these are the guys who are doing it and women. And they've been let down."

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