A prosecutor for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia said on Monday that 11 security guards working at emergency centers for asylum seekers were under investigation over several alleged incidents of assault.
Details of the probe were released as investigators in the western German city of Essen searched the headquarters of asylum residence operator, European Homecare, for evidence that might relate to the abuse.
Several guards are under suspicion over alleged incidents at a center in the town of Burbach, which is a temporary home to some 700 refugees. A police investigation began after authorities found out about mobile phone pictures and videos reportedly showing the abuse.
In one of them, a man can be seen standing over a tied-up asylum seeker holding his boot on the nape of the refugee's neck. Another man is visible in the footage, crouched besides the refugee. Prosecutors said both men, whose faces are obscured in the image released to the public, were grinning.
Workers are also reported to have forced one refugee to lay on a mattress covered in vomit.
Possible lengthy jail terms
According to chief prosecutor Johannes Daheim, five security officers from the Burbach home were under investigation for abuse, suspected of grievous bodily harm. If convicted, all could be subject to prison terms of up to 10 years.
Four guards working at a home in Essen were also being investigated for alleged abuses that took place in the past two weeks, Daheim said. He added that 11 employees of security firms in the state faced investigation.
Both the centers in Burbach and Essen are run by the European Homecare business, which subcontracted operations at the center to security firm SKI. SKI is itself reported to have used subcontracted staff from another firm.
Two male guards, aged 30 and 37, from a separate Red Cross shelter in Bad Berleberg are also understood to be facing a police probe for assaulting a refugee.
Statewide investigation launched
Ralf Jäger, North Rhine-Westphalia's regional interior minister, said officials had ordered a check for evidence of possible abuse at all 19 major asylum centers in the region.
"We will not allow people who have come here seeking shelter from persecution and war to be abused," Jäger said.
The German branch of the rights group Amnesty International has called for a full investigation.
"The fact that people seeking refuge are being abused and humiliated by the security forces who are supposed to watch over them is an outrageous abuse of power," said Maria Scharlau, Amnesty International's torture and abuse expert.
During the first six months of this year, Germany received more asylum applications than any other country, and the challenge of housing the refugees has provided something of a headache for authorities. From January to August, a total of 99,592 asylum seekers came to Germany.
rc/msh (dpa, AP, AFP, EPD, Reuters)