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Germany

Case of Suffocated Refugee Reaches Court

After five years, three German border guards face a Frankfurt court to answer questions on their involvement in the death of a Sudanese refugee who died while being deported in 1999.

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Demonstrators from an asylum group outside the Frankfurt court.

A court in Frankfurt has begun to hear the case of three German border guards who are accused of using excessive force five years ago in the deportation of an asylum seeker who later died by suffocation. The Federal Border Police officers face charges of careless homicide.

The incident took place on May 28th, 1999, when Aamir Ageeb, 30, was being taken to a Lufthansa airplane by border guards before being deported back to his home country of Sudan. The prosecution will claim that Ageeb was restrained in his seat with numerous plastic chains and rope to such an extent that he was struggling for air. The court will hear that when Ageeb began to struggle and protest, the guards then put a motorcycle helmet on his head in an attempt to prevent the Sudanese from biting them. The resulting actions, it is claimed, led to Ageeb suffocating to death.

None of the accused has made any statements regarding the nature of the case and the accusations made against them. They face prison sentences of up to five years each if found guilty.

Were regulations and procedures ignored?

The German refugee organization Pro Asyl maintains that the central question of the case should be whether the border guards knew that the force they were exerting could have been deadly.

The organization said that the procedure practiced by U.S. guards to restrain prisoners had been adopted by the German Border Police and that they should have known safe methods of restraint. By attaching numerous restraining devices to Ageeb while he was in a certain position may have led to the breathing problems which caused his death.

Frankfurt doctor Klaus Metz has stated that "death due to position-conditioned suffocation" had been established in the autopsy.

Possible obstructions hinder case

Lawyers acting for Ageeb’s family said that their own investigation into the case had met with unforeseen problems. Dieter Kornblum of the prosecution told German radio that certain Border Police documents pertinent to the case had disappeared and could be in “any number of drawers.”

Ageeb’s death generated heated discussions concerning the regulations associated with the so-called “return of rejected asylum-seekers.” Federal Minister of the Interior Otto Schily suspended all deportations where it was thought there was a possibility of violent resistance on the part of the deportee. The decision was heavily criticized.

As a result, police and border guard procedures for dealing with violent deportees were reassessed and the use of motorcycle helmets where there is a danger of struggle is now prohibited.

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