Stamismir Panov fears that he will lose his place in the container if his corona test is positive. Sergei Angelov is afraid that jobs will break him due to the state ban on contacts. Dimitar Velev fears that he will not be able to join his family now that Europe is closing its borders.
The three Bulgarians, who earn their money on the so-called workers’ line, have just more problems than usual due to the corona pandemic: They have hardly any reserves, but sometimes find it harder to work because of the lockdown. They live in precarious conditions, which threatens to promote a severe course of the lung disease Covid-19. At the same time, emergency medical care is just rarer for them.
There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people in Germany who are concerned with such concerns. Bogus self-employed, often from Romania and Bulgaria, who came here to find decent work in their home countries after decades of economic downturn – and who all too often got stuck in the German shadow labor market.
Cleaning stairwells, unloading containers, cutting meat, taking care of old people: Without people like Angelov, Velev and Panov, food and services would be much more expensive in Germany. Day laborers work up to twelve hours a day, up to six days a week, for five to ten euros an hour, mostly black, mostly without valid contracts. The customs that are supposed to take action against undeclared work are chronically understaffed and rarely bother them.
Most of them stay in Germany. The bottom line is that they often earn significantly more than in a proper job at home. The price for this is a life with almost no collateral. An eternal search for the next opportunity. This applies more than ever in the corona crisis. It is now time to continue working. To live on. Somehow.
On Sunday afternoon, Sergey Angelov runs across the sun-drenched Stübplatz in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. The surrounding bars, where day laborers usually do their jobs, are closed. The windows of some pubs have recently been covered opaque, like in Chicago in the 1920s, at the time of prohibition, when the business behind the privacy screen sometimes just went on. However, according to residents, there also seems to be no secret operation here.
Since the bars are closed, jobs have sometimes been found on the street, says the 39-year-old Bulgarian. It doesn’t make things less risky.
Angelov wears a black baseball cap, a shiny black leatherette vest and a dust mask from the hardware store. He knows that the mask cannot protect him 100 percent. But better a little protection than none at all.
If he gets infected, he may not be able to work for weeks, says Angelov. After that, he would probably be homeless.
Angelov sleeps on a mattress in a small room that he shares with two other day laborers. The semi-legal accommodation costs 250 euros per month, in cash on hand, without notice. Angelov has almost no reserves.
He still finds a good job, says Angelov. He is laying screed. That is still in demand now. Other day laborers, on the other hand, would have to reorient themselves. The unloading of containers at the port is currently sluggish because fewer goods arrive. Harvesters are no longer coming across the border. But where doors close, others often open. Disinfecting aircraft, says Angelov, is currently very popular.
Metin Celik, who runs a small mobile phone shop with a Western Union terminal not far from Stübensplatz, also notices that some day laborers are suffering from the crisis. “Usually the workers come to me to send money to their home countries,” says Celik. “Now a lot of money is getting sent from there.”
It’s good to distract yourself during these times, says Dimitar Velev. If you sink too deeply into your thoughts, you will be paralyzed at some point.
The 35-year-old demolition worker from Jambol, Bulgaria says they are disinfecting the door and window handles in his mattress room just three times a day while he sticks a cigarette with unwashed hands and touches his mouth with his fingers when smoking.
He would like to go back to his family. But he didn’t know how to get home. Some of his colleagues tried to come to Bulgaria and were turned away at the Hungarian border.
As long as he is stuck here, says Velev, the main motto is: Don’t get sick! The medical emergency hour for migrants has just closed.
Representatives of social organizations confirm that their offers for the socially disadvantaged are now quite limited. “Our doctors often belong to the corona risk group themselves,” says Eva Lindeman, spokeswoman for Hamburg, a place of hope, a church network that includes around a dozen local aid organizations. “We sent them home to protect them.” Some still offer telemedicine.
Advice centers that help migrants to free themselves from exploitative living and working relationships are also often closed due to Corona. Most of the employees are in the home office, says Lindemann, and often only support a few cases of hardship over the phone.
What happens when a migrant worker falls ill with Corona? One who is afraid of this is Stanismir Panov, a construction worker from Borisovo in northern Bulgaria. Panov, who is actually called differently, is 66 years old and already had prostate cancer, so he belongs to the risk group twice.
He lives in a residential container in which the city lets some homeless people hibernate. He doesn’t know whether he’s infected with Corona, he says on the phone. But he is currently ill and must not leave his container. The food will be put in front of them. He was afraid that if he tested positive, they would throw him out.
The social support and housing agency, which manages Panov’s container settlement, confirms that some residential units are now used to isolate suspected corona cases. But people like Panov do not end up on the street – on the contrary, they are even better off than other homeless people.
“Unlike everyone else, they don’t have to leave the bed in the morning, but can stay there all day,” says a spokeswoman. They are given three meals a day, and if their health deteriorates, caregivers call an ambulance for them. “But then things get complicated for people like Panov.
“If someone is in mortal danger, the clinics have to treat them fundamentally,” says Marianne Schaaf, director of Westend Open.med, a non-profit organization that organizes anonymous medical care for migrants. “But there are often problems with admission because the clinics fear they will be left at their own expense.”
The Infection Protection Act actually regulates that city authorities later reimburse the clinics for the costs. But the bureaucratic hurdles are high. The authorities sometimes ask the hospitals for papers that migrants can hardly get. Some clinics in the emergency department are correspondingly restrictive.
She knows of cases in which migrant workers had to fight long to see a doctor at all, says Schaaf. “Some seriously ill people were so frightened that they just left.”
Translations: Ali Yüce