Providing healthcare for illegal Punjabi immigrants in Germany

As illegal ­Punjabi immigrants in ­Germany are likely to have forged medical fitness certificates, there is the danger of them spreading contagious diseases

By Rajiv Kunwar

There are precisely three categories of Indians living in Germany. The first consists of people who come to this country on study visa for a limited time depending upon the nature of their study programme. The second category ­includes those who come to Germany to work on short or long-term company projects, mostly in IT, a sector where the Indian population is growing at a breathtaking pace not just in Germany but also in other developed markets like the US, EU, Canada and the Schenghen countries. However, the largest number of Indians belongs to the third category which includes the ones settled here as well as the ones who have an undocumented status. 

In my research for the University of Heidelberg, I studied people with undocumented status, i.e. immigrants who have absolutely no paper to prove their identity. These people are at the rock-bottom of illegality, compared with the ones who are seeking asylum and have some documentary evidence to prove their identity and existence. Interestingly, the population of undocumented Indians here in Germany comprises of mostly Punjabi migrants.

Regarding these Punjabi immigrants’ entry into illegality and their motives for seeking refuge in Germany, the findings of my research about this population clearly underlined job, money and relationship as the main motives for leaving their homeland. My findings dispelled the most popular impression that these immigrants came to Germany for security reasons. The famous author and Indian diaspora expert Shubha Singh (2005:10) in her book Overseas Indians also presents a real account of the prevalent motives among Punjabi immigrants who decide to leave their homeland for other countries. She reveals that these people belonging to small villages in Punjab embark on such a journey with the sole purpose of making money abroad after selling their agricultural land and mortgaging property and jewellery.

In all my free-wheeling interviews with these immigrants in Germany, during my research in 2009, almost every one of the 30 migrants admitted that the decision to abandon their homeland was very much influenced by the hostile social situation in Punjab during the years following the 1984 communal riots. 

However, their ultimate arrival in Germany cannot be attributed to security reasons. In fact, the protection of life is secondary to their desire to find an escape route from the rut created by their own risk-taking tendencies in pursuit of greener pastures. These migrants’ precarious and risky behaviours coupled with hasty decisions result in their isolation and a prolonged confinement in Germany, where their lives and health are in constant peril.

The case of these undocumented Punjabi immigrants indicates that they rely heavily on illegal means and methods when crossing the borders of a foreign country. As they do not shy away from using fake documents to travel from one country to another, one might be inclined to assume that these people may as well have forged medical fitness certificates without actually undergoing the procedure. This is where undocumented migrants’ access to healthcare in Germany needs to be facilitated in order to minimise the risk of contagious diseases spreading throughout the nation.

Like other undocumented immigrants who enter Germany through different geographical borders in order to earn money, this population of Punjabi immigrants from India mostly finds employment in sectors such as the building trade, agriculture and the service industry.

—To be continued

The author is an independent researcher based in Germany. 
He was formerly a student at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg.
(The write-up is a summary of the original ­Master´s thesis titled “Undocumented Migrants’ Access to Healthcare in Germany: Limitations and Strategies”)

February 2011

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