Refugee abuse trial opens in Germany

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02:56 mins.
31.08.2018

Berlin refugee help center

The refugee abuse scandal sent shock waves through Germany when it became public nearly four years ago. Now, 30 guards, social workers and city employees at the asylum center face a host of charges.

The trial of 30 people accused of abusing refugees at an asylum center in Germany started on Thursday in the western town of Siegen. When the 155-page indictment was read by senior public prosecutor Christian Kuhli, the scope of the crimes became shockingly clear.

It has been nearly four years since shocking images of abuse against refugees in the small western town of Burbach triggered widespread outrage. But the details presented by Kuhli outlined them in vivid detail. What he described was the widespread, systematic abuse of refugees by home operators, guards and social workers over the course of nine months. 

Read more: Making amends in a German refugee shelter

The abuse was captured on cellphone photos and videos. One of the Burbach photos showed a security guard posing with his foot on the neck of a handcuffed refugee lying on the floor, while the video showed a refugee being forced to lie on a mattress stained with vomit.

One of the men on trial is a police officer from Rhineland-Palatinate who was working extra shifts at the home. He was one of the men seen in the first photo. The refugee in the photo had been beaten unconscious before the photo was taken.

At the time the photos became public, Police Chief Frank Richter from nearby Hagen said: "These are images of the kind we've seen from Guantanamo Bay." 

Security guards also took the refugees to a "problem room" where they were imprisoned for days while being beaten and robbed. Kuhli told the court that refugees were locked in the room to "discipline" them for minor infractions such as smoking in their rooms.   

Read more: Underage refugees in Germany increasingly going missing

Government employees 'aware of the criminal situation, did nothing'

The refugee facility was operated by the company European Home Care (EHC). One of those said to be responsible for the crimes committed at the site was an EHC employee who ran the facility for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Prosecutors say he decided who was to be put in the problem room. A social worker at the facility is also accused of having carried out his orders without question. 

Two employees from the Arnsberg municipal government also face charges. Kuhli says the two had an office next to the problem room and "although they were aware of the criminal situation, they did nothing about it."

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The guards, social workers and local government employees at the asylum facility face charges that include grievous bodily harm, deprivation of liberty, coercion and theft. If convicted, they could face fines and jail time.

The trial of the facility director, who pleaded guilty before the trial in Siegen began, will take place at the North Rhine-Westphalia State Court in early 2019.  

Following the scandal, operations at the refugee center were transferred from the social services company European Homecare to the German Red Cross.

cw/sms (AFP, epd)

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