Asparagus harvest in Hesse, where farmers fear the fruit and vegetable harvest will suffer after a ban on seasonal workers from outside Germany, March 2020 | Photo: A. Arnold/picture/alliance
Asparagus harvest in Hesse, where farmers fear the fruit and vegetable harvest will suffer after a ban on seasonal workers from outside Germany, March 2020 | Photo: A. Arnold/picture/alliance

Germany is turning to its migrant and refugee communities for help in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Anticipated shortages of medical staff and farm workers for this year's harvest mean jobs may be opened up to those who are normally not permitted to work.

The German government says it has more equipment in reserve to deal with the worsening coronavirus pandemic, but finding enough medical staff is another matter. Now in at least two German states, medical authorities have come up with what they hope is a partial solution.

In Saxony, the regional medical board is advertising for migrant doctors to help tackle a rise in cases of Covid-19. "Foreign doctors who are in Saxony but do not yet have a license to practice medicine can help with coronavirus care," the appeal on Facebook says.On Monday, the medical board reported that 300 volunteers had responded to its appeal for help, including "many foreign doctors whose licensing procedures are not yet completed, whose help is very welcome." 

'Happy to do something'

Shadi Shahda is one migrant doctor who is ready to help. He came to Germany last April on a visa for highly-qualified job seekers and with three years' experience as an ENT (ear, nose, throat) medical resident in Syria. But a language exam he needed to take this month to work as a doctor in Saxony was cancelled due to the coronavirus. Dr Julia Martin (r) and a medical student in Tübingen, Germany, 24 March 2020 | Photo: picture-alliance/ULMER

The 29-year-old jumped at the medical board's Facebook post. "I am waiting for their call," he says. "I was very happy when I saw that I could do something in the country where I am living."

Hamburg appeal

The city-state of Hamburg, where the number of known infections rose sharply on Wednesday to 1,450, has also launched an appeal for people with medical or nursing training, including students and experienced nursing aids, to work as volunteers. More than 1,000 have already responded to the call on Facebook.Migrants and refugees with suitable qualifications are welcome to apply, regardless of their residency or work status, the state's Ministry of Health told InfoMigrants.

Plans to save harvest

Asylum seekers in Germany may also be working on farms during this year's harvest period to ensure there is no food supply crisis as a result of coronavirus.

On Wednesday the government closed the borders to seasonal laborers, leaving Germany potentially short of hundreds of thousands of workers needed for this year's harvesting and planting.

The Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner wants to let asylum seekers who would normally not be permitted to work in Germany help fill the gaps. The interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has asked her to check that it would be legally possible.

"It comes down to the question whether people who are in Germany and are banned from working are prepared -- provided that they are willing and able -- to help in the fields. I firmly believe that they are," said Klöckner.

More than 16,000 people, including asylum seekers, have already responded to online appeals for help, according to Klöckner.

"There is a great deal of willingness on the part of many people who are asylum seekers finally to be able to work here," she said.

With Reuters, dpa

 

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