‘Happy to work here’: How refugees in Germany are easing labour shortage

As Germany struggles with a growing worker shortage, a new startup is matching immigrant job-seekers with companies. The Local visited a bakery in Berlin which has employed several foreigners, including refugees from Ukraine.

Hugue Mpumpu, who was studying in Ukraine when war broke out, at the Bekarei in Mariendorf, Berlin.
Hugue Mpumpu, who was studying in Ukraine when war broke out, at the Bekarei in Mariendorf, Berlin. Photo: Rachel Loxton

On a hot summer’s day in Berlin, Hugue Mpumpu is wearing a hair net and checked trousers as he packs up burger buns at the Bekarei, a family-run business based in Mariendorf. 

Mpumpu, who’s from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled Ukraine after Russia invaded the country on February 24th. 

He is grateful to be earning money, but never expected that life would lead him here. 

Mpumpu, who was studying for a medical degree in Kharkiv, explains the traumatic experience of leaving his home the day after the invasian started, and trying to get across the borders out of Ukraine, through Poland and onto Germany in freezing temperatures and chaotic conditions. 

“We didn’t have clothes for winter,” he says. “Everything was painful, my whole body. I just asked God to give me strength.”

Like other so-called ‘third country’ (non-EU) students who were in Ukraine have reported, Mpumpu has faced extra obstacles, from the different treatment to non-Ukrainians at borders and racism, to navigating complex migration laws.  

He is dealing with the daunting task of looking for a flat in Berlin, but is also trying to liaise with authorities to find out how long he is legally allowed to stay in Germany.

‘Everyone affected’ by worker shortage

Mpumpu managed to secure a job at the bakery thanks to Fixkraft, a startup which pledges to match immigrant job-seekers with firms by connecting them to relevant jobs, and taking care of the bureaucracy involved. 

Like many workplaces in Germany, the Bekarei is struggling to fill vacancies. 

George Andreadis, who co-owns the business with his wife, tells The Local: “It’s a general situation and everyone is affected at the moment – we don’t have enough people. Or maybe there are enough people but just not enough people who want to work.

George Andreadis, who co-owns Bekarei with employee Hugue Mpumpu.

George Andreadis, who co-owns Bekarei, with employee Hugue Mpumpu. Photo: Rachel Loxton

“The other situation you have is the people that come to Germany and would like to work but it’s just such a hurdle to get all the paperwork done and start somewhere. And we ourselves, with our own strength, are not capable of doing all this paperwork. This is a lucky coincidence that we found there is someone doing this paperwork and he brings in the people, like Hugue.”

Andreadis, who is originally from Greece, says the bakery is an “international workplace” with staff from all over the world. And one big advantage for job-seeking foreigners is that there is no requirement to speak German. 

Constantin Weiss, who co-founded Fixkraft “to aid immigration into the labour market” reached out to the Bekarei who were advertising for logistics jobs. 

“Our company does the vetting,” he says. “When people register we interview them and we make sure all the documents are in order.”

As The Local has been reporting, Germany is suffering from a drastic shortage of workers. A recent report by the IAB Institute for Employment Research found 1.74 million vacant positions across the country. As the older generation retires, the situation will get worse. 

READ ALSO: Germany looks to foreign workers to ease ‘dramatic’ worker shortage

The coalition government of the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats say they want to make Germany more attractive to skilled immigrants to encourage them to come to Germany and work.

Germany is also planning to relax citizenship laws as part of its overhaul of immigration policies, which will mean non-EU nationals will be allowed to hold more than one nationality. 

But Weiss says there are people – like Mpumpu and other refugees or migrants – who are already in the country and ready to work. Andreadis agrees that one of the major issues is the length of time it can take for immigration authorities to approve foreigners to work in Germany. 

After politicians changed the rules, refugees from Ukraine have automatic access to the labour market. But others going through the asylum system often have to wait weeks, if not months, says Weiss. 

People stand in front of Berlin’s Office for Immigration in May 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

“There’s a lot of people here wanting to work, and a lot of companies who are in need of people,” says Weiss. “We take care of all the paperwork and we’re just the matchmaker. Companies can tell us who they are looking to hire and we can connect them to relevant candidates from our database.”

Weiss says Fixkraft can help all foreigners already in Germany to find jobs in Berlin, and he hopes they will expand to include the whole German job market in future. 

As well as bureaucracy, obstacles for immigrants include struggling to get their qualifications recognised and not being able to speak German.

“94 percent of the people in our database have job experience,” says Weiss. “They have skills and are knowledgeable about something.

“They’re here and they’re not allowed to participate and it’s ridiculous.”


‘Happy to learn’

At the bakery, Hugue Mpumpu talks of his sadness of leaving his life in Ukraine, his studies and part-time job.

“When I was in Ukraine I wasn’t thinking about going to Germany today or tomorrow,” he says. “I was thinking about studying in Ukraine, and after that doing my PhD programme and to go back to my country and help people.”

He describes how difficult it was for him to get a visa and leave his home country to study in Europe. For that reason he can’t just go home, he says. 

For now Mpumpu wants to continue to work in Germany and find a stable living situation. 

“Working in the Bekarei for me is very good,” he says. “The colleagues are very kind. They can help you, they can speak with me. On my second day I also tried to bake bread. It was interesting for me to do that. I’m happy to learn. I need to learn. I’m happy to work here, to pay tax. I’m not illegally working here.”

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Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

Borys Shyfrin fled as a young child, along with other members of his Jewish family, from the Nazis.

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

More than eight decades on, the Ukrainian Holocaust survivor has been forced from his home once more – but this time he’s found a safe haven in Germany.

Shyfrin is among a number of Ukrainian Jews who lived through the Nazi terror and have now fled to the country from which Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich launched its drive try to wipe Jews out.

He never wanted to leave Mariupol, where he had lived for decades. But Russia’s brutal assault on the Ukrainian port city made it impossible to stay.

“There was no gas, no electricity, no water whatsoever,” the 81-year-old told AFP from a care home in Frankfurt, recalling the relentless bombardment by Moscow’s forces.

“We were waiting for the authorities to come… We waited for a day, two days a week.”

Bodies of people killed by bombs and gunfire littered the streets, recalled Shyfrin, a widower who had lost contact with his only son.

“There were so many of them… no one picked them up. People got used to it – no one paid attention.”

People scraped by finding what food they could, with water supplied by a fire engine that made regular visits to his neighbourhood.

Shyfrin’s apartment was damaged during the fighting in Mariupol – defended so fiercely that it became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – and he spent much time sheltering in the cellar of his building.

Became homeless

The elderly man eventually left Mariupol with the aid of a rabbi, who helped the local Jewish population get out of the city.

He was evacuated to Crimea, and from there, travelled on a lengthy overland journey through Russia and Belarus, eventually arriving in Warsaw, Poland.

After some weeks in Poland, a place in a care home was found in Frankfurt.

In July, he was transported to Germany in an ambulance, with the help of the Claims Conference, a Jewish organisation that has been aiding the evacuation of Ukrainian Holocaust survivors.

Shyfrin, who walks with the aid of a stick, is still processing the whirlwind of events that carried him unexpectedly to Germany.

The outbreak of war was a “very big surprise”, he said.

“I used to love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin very much,” said Shyfrin, who is a native Russian speaker, did military service in the Soviet Union, and went on to work as a radio engineer with the military.

“Now I do not know whether Putin is right to be at war with Ukraine or not – but somehow, because of this war, I have become homeless.”

Shyfrin was born in 1941, in Gomel, Belarus.

When he was just three months old, his family fled to Tajikistan to escape German Nazi forces who were occupying the region.

Many of Belarus’s Jews died during the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed a total of six million European Jews.

In neighbouring Ukraine, the once-large Jewish community was also almost completely wiped out.

After the war, his family returned to Belarus and Shyfrin completed his studies, did military service, and settled in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1970s.


The pensioner seemed philosophical about the twist of fate that has forced him to leave his home.

“Well, it’s not up to me,” he said, when asked about having to flee war for the second time in his life.

His most immediate concerns are more practical – such as how to access his money back home.

“I can’t even receive my honestly earned military pension,” he said.

He recently moved to a new care home run by the Jewish community, where there are more Russian speakers.

As well as helping Shyfrin on the final leg of his journey, the Claims Conference provided him with financial assistance.

It has evacuated over 90 Ukrainian Holocaust survivors to Germany since the outbreak of the conflict, a break from the organisation’s usual work of ensuring that survivors get compensation and ongoing support.

The body had long been helping to run care programmes for Holocaust victims in Ukraine.

But, as the conflict intensified, it became clear such care programmes could no longer be sustained, particularly in the east, said Ruediger Mahlo, the Conference’s representative in Germany.

“Because many of the survivors needed a lot of care and could not survive without this help, it was clear we had to try to do everything to evacuate (them),” he told AFP.

Getting them out involved huge logistical challenges, from finding ambulances in Ukraine to locating suitable care homes.

For many of the frail Holocaust survivors, it can be a struggle to grasp the fact that they have found refuge in Germany, said Mahlo.

They are fleeing to a country that “had in the past persecuted them, and done everything to kill them,” he said.

“Certainly, they are traumatised,” he said.