The right to have rights: Undocumented migration and health care in Germany

Kein Mensch Ist Illegal: No One is Illegal reads the German pavement art. When I was doing research on migration in Spain, it was understood amongst NGOs and activists that undocumented migrants did indeed have the right to health care from publicly-funded institutions (public health clinics, notably). This right was not advertised anywhere, however, nor did any government spokesperson come out and say it in public. To know that you would be attended if you showed up at a public clinic, someone else had to tell you first – either another, more clued-in migrant or some person in solidarity with migrants.

I have doubts about the concept of rights in general, myself, and in particular that of human rights, but the academic author of an article denouncing Germany’s situation accepts them unquestioningly. The conundrum rests in the fact that migrants don’t legally exist in countries they have entered without documentation. Since they don’t have citizens’ (legal residents’) rights there, human rights to health are claimed, in tandem with arguments that in the country under discussion health care is considered a right.

The following are excerpts from the full article:

Illegal Migrants Languish in German Health Care System

Rajiv Kunwar, IDN-InDepth News

Germany’s immigration policies focus mainly on combating illegal immigration, without any attention to the rights of undocumented migrants. In principle, there are certain minimal rights available to undocumented immigrants in Germany, including a reduced level of medical treatment. Several studies, however, have shown that in practice these migrants are hardly in a position to avail of their right to seeking medical care. The exclusion from full social benefits stems from the Government’s fear of creating any additional pull factors which might encourage further immigration. Undocumented migrants’ human rights are in no way sufficiently protected in Germany where the access to healthcare is governed by highly restrictive regulations. Medical assistance to this segment of the population is hampered as well as criminalised through the legal framework. Paragraphs 87 and 96 of the . . .  Residence Act) . . .  require public institutions to report illegal immigrants to the foreigners’ registration office. While hospitals and independent physicians are not obliged to do so, social welfare offices have to adhere to this law. This dismal situation is putting tremendous pressure on healthcare professionals and social workers who often work with limited resources to defend migrants’ fundamental rights to healthcare.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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