headscarf germany
A Muslim woman wearing a headscarf walks past an election poster in Germany Getty

A Palestinian woman who was given an internship at a town hall as part of a programme to help refugees find jobs has been fired for wearing a headscarf.

The town's mayor said she sacked the 48-year-old woman on her first day of a six-week placement after she refused to take off her headscarf when told government workers had to be seen to be neutral.

"We told her that a neutrality requirement applies here," Mayor Elisabeth Herzog-von der Heide, of the town Luckenwalde in Brandeburg, told Bild newspaper.

"Religious symbols have no place in our government. We also do not allow crucifixes on the walls."

The mayor said the 48-year-old woman, who has not been named under German privacy laws, claimed she could only take off the scarf "when no men were present," adding: "So she had to finish her internship."

The decision has prompted criticism, with Sven Petke, a representative from the state parliament and Angela Merkel's conservative CDU party, saying it had "no legal basis".

He said the German Constitutional Court had already struck down a ban on headscarves for state school teachers last year, adding: "It is something different than a crucifix on the wall."

The case of the Palestinian intern comes as the German government considers a ban on the burka in certain public spaces, including government offices. The proposals went short of recommending a ban for headscarves, however.

Growing debate across Europe over traditional Islamic dress code for women has seen several French towns already ban burkini swimsuits on their beaches, with offenders ordered to remove them by police.