Living conditions of non-EU migrants residing in Germany during the Covid-19 pandemic
2 June 2020
Sabine Meier and Laura Foelske (University of Siegen)
In Germany, 19.3 million people (of the 83.1 million inhabitants in total) has a so-called ´migration background´ while 10.1 million people do not have German nationality. 57 percent of the population without German nationality are non-EU migrants. The measures taken against the spread of the Covid-19 virus highlight social inequality between a number of non-EU migrants and those who are established regarding their secure employment relationships, housing situation and social inclusion in local networks.
As regards the employment situation during the pandemic, according to the figures of the ´Immigration Monitor´, published in May 2020 by the German Institute for Employment Research (IAB), the number of unemployed among people with foreign passports rose four times as strongly in March and April 2020 as among those with a German nationality. A further analysis shows that people who flee from war and crisis countries are most affected by job losses during the pandemic. While unemployment among migrants with an EU passport increased by 0.9 percent, it rose by 5.1 percent among people from war and crisis countries. This is because the largest share of jobs of non-EU migrants is temporary work. If marginal employment is added, the main sectors in which they work is catering and restaurants, trade, maintenance, repair or cleaning sector, domestic work and seasonal harvest help.
With respect to the housing situation, many non-EU migrants have been able to move into independent apartments over the last years while some still rely on collective accommodations. These accommodations are often located in converted schools, hotels or military barracks, where approx. 50 to 400 people live in private rooms with shared kitchens and sanitary facilities. In particular in shrinking regions, collective accommodations are often located in some miles distance to city centers. Since a few weeks, the daily press regularly reports about collective accommodations in shrinking areas, where the migrants are not only are exposed to an increased health risk. In addition, bus lines to remote collective accommodation have been discontinued. As a result, they are unable to reach a supermarket or other services with public transport. Besides complaints and hunger strikes by the migrants themselves a number of German refugee councils and also students of the Fridays-for-Future movement have repeatedly drawn attention to the conditions through protest actions.
In relation to social inclusion in local networks and communities, especially in shrinking regions, non-EU migrants depend on voluntary help because of the absence of old established migrant organizations. By the ´volunteers-government-migrants´ co-production, for instance, housing maintenance and regular visits has been combined with mutual assistance of all kinds, translations during doctor’s visits and visits to authorities or finding solutions together to overcome administrative hurdles.
Moreover, a number of migrants organize themselves in sport or other leisure clubs. Both, everyday social interactions between volunteers and migrants as well as the participation in clubs and associations, were restricted during the pandemic. In addition to this restriction, right-wing groups use the pandemic not only to defame the government as a scapegoat, but also the newcomers. They blame the newcomers either to be the “carrier” of the virus or being part of a militant group, that wants to take over – with the German government – the Germans. These groups use the current crisis to spread their conspiracy theories and to stir up hatred against newcomers. Therefore, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution considers a high risk of right-winged attacks on refugees and newcomers. They also consider radicalized loners as dangerous. Therefore, a number of migrants became not only isolated and lonely, but got mental problems in particular reinforced by the pandemic.
Besides these negative impacts, there are few initiatives developed to improve migrants´ living conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic. With respect to the employment situation, e.g. the federal state Schleswig-Holstein has simplified the rules in order to allow newcomers to take up jobs as harvest workers. The refugee council of Schleswig-Holstein endorses this development in the first instance but warned against suddenly discovering asylum seekers as cheap labor in the crisis: To grant them rights now, but which they would quickly lose again when the crisis ended. Addionally, the Federation of German Trade Unions demand for more offers for (further) qualification, training, recognition of qualifications acquired abroad, demand-oriented career guidance and labour market placement in general to improve the access to regular work for (non-EU) migrants.
In addition to these demands, volunteers and migrants themselves organize to support migrants by searching for new ideas and engagements by the blog “GoVoluneer”. With this blogs people were informed about living conditions of migrants and concrete advice is given how to support migrants and other social groups in weak social positions. This publicly available website shows some examples: