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Malayali Nurses in Germany

Politics around the termination of their stay in 1977

Published onMay 05, 2023
Malayali Nurses in Germany

On 7th June 1978, the National Executive Secretary of the Catholic Nurses Guild of India (CNGI) wrote a report about her two trips to West Germany in September 1977 and May 1978. I found this report in the Archive of the Archdiocese Cologne. The National Executive Secretary was responsible for the reintegration in India of nurses, who were recruited from Kerala to West Germany in the 1960s.

In the 1970s, German policies towards migrant workers became more restrictive. In 1976/1977, local authorities informed the nurses from India (and other Asian countries) that their permits for residence and work will not be extended. The nurses reacted with petitions for an extension of their stay. They claimed that they would face unemployment in India, that their families were dependent on their remittances and that they had sacrificed their youth for the German sick and elderly.

The National Executive Secretary of the CNGI reacted to this by developing reintegration schemes for them in India and wanted to convince the nurses that they were wanted and needed in India. In this, she was supported by Kreuzberg Bonn, a missionary institution in West Germany promoting the return of migrants to their home countries as development workers. They requested Cardinal Garcias of Bombay to write a letter to the nurses in West Germany, telling them that they are wanted and needed in India. This letter was sent by Kreuzberg Bonn to the hospitals in West Germany, where nurses from India were employed . Furthermore, they informed German authorities that there were sufficient employment opportunities for the nurses in India.

The National Executive Secretary of the CNGI seemed annoyed by the fact that so few nurses wanted to be reintegrated. And she was surprised that the nurses were angry with her. Not only they, but also Caritas Germany was annoyed by the activities of her and Kreuzberg Bonn in West Germany. The latter's assurance that there were enough jobs in India damaged the efforts of the nurses to get their residence and work permits extended. The German authorities used it as a legitimisation of their restrictive policies. The hospitals supported the nurses less in their struggle to stay.

Urmila Goel presents her research at the workshop in New Delhi (24.02.2023) in the panel “Globalising Work Migration”.

My presentation at the workshop used archival material to illustrate the different perspectives on the return of the nurses to India. Doing so it illustrated that most actors treated the nurses according to their own objectives without considering the nurses’ agency. Only Caritas raised the interests of the nurses and argued that they should be the ones, who decide, how long they will stay. I will explore this topic further.

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