Asylum-seekers abused in German refugee centres

29th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

German police Monday investigated six private security guards accused of assaulting and humiliating asylum seekers in a refugee centre in ways that drew comparisons to violence against Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Police also questioned hundreds of fellow refugees after shocking photo and video footage emerged, including an image showing a security guard pinning a handcuffed Algerian man to the floor with his boot on the man's neck.

Police said they launched their investigation after a journalist on Friday passed on to them cellphone video footage that showed security guards forcing an elderly man to lie on a matrass covered in vomit, threatening to beat him.

North Rhine-Westphalia state Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger pledged to pursue "with utmost determination" the case in the refugee centre in Burbach, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Cologne, vowing to ensure "that this never happens again".

"These are images of the kind we've seen from Guantanamo Bay," said Frank Richter, police chief of the nearby city of Hagen, referring to the controversial US military detention facility in Cuba.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said that if investigations confirm that "refugees were abused and humiliated, then these would be repulsive acts".

"We are a humane country. In Germany, the dignity of man is respected ... and that must be true in asylum centres and refugee camps," said Steffen Seibert.

- 'Appalling racism' -

Local authorities said they had ended the contract with the security company Sky, a subsidiary of European Homecare which runs the facility, while police have begun questioning all of the about 700 people in the Burbach centre.

"It's terrible to imagine that people who have already suffered violence in other countries and come here looking for protection are then exposed to such a situation," said the chief prosecutor of the nearby city of Siegen, Johannes Daheim.

"This only reinforces their trauma."

Refugee rights group Pro Asyl said the brutal attacks were signs of "appalling racism" committed by unqualified guards.

It accused the state agencies of outsourcing the accommodation of refugees, whose numbers have spiked this year in Germany, to the "lowest bidder".

"There is no control on whether contractors employ personnel that are qualified and trained in intercultural communication, or violent thugs," the group said, condemning that "the plight of refugees is turned into a business for profit".

In the days since the case broke, amid outrage in the German media, more allegations have emerged in North Rhine-Westphalia, including in the city of Essen, where asylum seekers also said they had been beaten and verbally abused, reported local public broadcaster WDR.

And in a third refugee centre in the western state, in the town of Bad Berleburg, two guards from a separate company were also being investigated for assaulting a refugee about two weeks ago, the national news agency DPA reported.

For two years Germany has been Europe's leading destination for asylum seekers, especially from war-torn Syria and Iraq as well as the Balkans.

Last year asylum requests jumped 64 percent to over 127,000, according to German government data, making up 29 percent of the EU total. This year Germany expects the arrival of 200,000 refugees.

© 2014 AFP

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