There are an estimated 200,000 – 600,000 undocumented migrants in Germany. Authorities have stated that everyone, regardless of their status, may access Covid-19 testing and treatment. Although this is technically true, migrant rights advocates have highlighted concerns amongst undocumented migrants that should they seek testing and treatment, they will face sanctions. Hospitals and GPs in Germany are obliged to provide emergency treatment to undocumented migrants, and medical practitioners are not required to pass information to immigration authorities. However, should an undocumented migrant wish to access planned care, postnatal care, preventive care, postnatal care, and care for infectious or sexually transmitted diseases, they must provide a document from the social welfare office—and these welfare offices are required to report undocumented migrants to immigration authorities. Reportedly, migrants must present this card should they seek Covid-19 testing and treatment—thus exposing them to the risk of arrest, detention, and deportation. Advocates, however, insist that “in the context of a spreading pandemic, states must ensure that preventative care, goods, services and information are available and accessible to everyone, regardless of their residence permit” (PICUM).
Although the pandemic has made most removals from Germany impossible, the country’s Interior Ministry has rejected calls for a nationwide ban on deportation flights. According to German media, some states and the federal government contine to attempt to conduct deportations when possible. (For more on deportations from Germany, see the 20 May update).
As lockdown measures began to ease in Germany in May, a handful of new virus hotspots were identified centred around the country’s meat industry. According to trade union estimates, migrant workers make up some 80 percent of the industry, with most originating from eastern and southern European states having been hired by sub-contractors. These workers are often required to work well beyond the legal limit of 10 hours, receive poor pay, and are housed by the sub-contractors in overcrowded and unhygienic dorms. Often, they share rooms with five other persons. With hundreds of confirmed cases now connected to the country’s slaughterhouses (in some factories, more than half of the workforce have tested positive) and with workers unable to isolate in overcrowded dormitories, entire blocks have been placed in quarantine and migrants have faced movement restrictions—but some subcontractors have reportedly failed to provide those quarantined with essential supplies.
Significant criticism has been levelled at the sub-contractors responsible for these migrant workers—in particular, their failure to provide workers with adequate living and working conditions. Calls for municipalities to have greater control over migrant living conditions have thus grown, and in late May the Federal Cabinet approved draft legislation which will bar subcontractors from the meat industry from January 2021.
Away from the country’s meat industry, another hotspot that was identified in mid-May centred around a reception centre for asylum seekers outside Bonn. More than 160 people tested positive in the Sankt Augustin Reception Centre (including several staff members), prompting some politicians to call for improved living conditions inside such facilities. Asylum seekers in Germany are required to live in reception centres or shared accommodation during their asylum procedures, and the facilities they are placed in have long been criticised by refugee and rights observers. Additional outbreaks were also identified in reception facilities in Bonn and Berlin.
(CORRECTION: This update was corrected on 17 June 2020. Previously, we incorrectly reported that medical practitioners are required to report undocumented migrants to immigration authorities.)
- PICUM, “The Covid-19 Pandemic: We Need Urgent Measures to Protect People and Mend the Cracks in our Health, Social Protection and Migration Systems,” https://picum.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID-19-Statement-March-2020.pdf
- A. Grunau, “Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Threat to Undocumented Migrants,” DW, 13 May 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-pandemic-poses-threat-to-undocumented-migrants/a-53425104
- InfoMigrants, “Deportations from Germany Down in First Quarter of 2020,” 18 May 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24809/deportations-from-germany-down-in-first-quarter-of-2020
- S. Dietl, “Schlachten unter Lebensgefahr,” Jungle World, 28 May 2020, https://jungle.world/artikel/2020/22/schlachten-unter-lebensgefahr
- DW, “Coronavirus: ‘Modern Slavery’ at the Heart of German Slaughterhouse Outbreak,” InfoMigrants, 12 May 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24694/coronavirus-modern-slavery-at-the-heart-of-german-slaughterhouse-outbreak
- DW, “Germany’s Meat Industry Under Fire After Covid-19 Outbreaks,” InfoMigrants, 20 May 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24857/germany-s-meat-industry-under-fire-after-covid-19-outbreaks
- ECRE, “Germany: Asylum-Seekers Tested Positive for Covid-19 in Reception Facility,” 22 May 2020, https://www.ecre.org/germany-asylum-seekers-tested-positive-for-covid-19-in-reception-facilities/
- DW, “Coronavirus Outbreak Hits Refugee Home in Germany,” 18 May 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-outbreak-hits-refugee-home-in-germany/a-53474875
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Germany – 2017 Update,” 2017, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/germany
- “Andocken” health clinic in Hamburg provides medical care to undocumented migrants – who otherwise face arrest, detention, and deportation if found accessing state medical services (A. Grunau, “Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Threat to Undocumented Migrants,” DW, 13 May 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-pandemic-poses-threat-to-undocumented-migrants/a-53425104)