Allegations of abuse of asylum seekers in western Germany have triggered police investigations. Shocking images have disturbed the nation. Experts criticize lax recruitment by private security firms.
German police are investigating six security guards for the physical abuse of refugees at a shelter in the western German town of Burbach.
Two guards filmed and photographed their actions on their mobile phones. In one of the photos, an asylum seeker is shown lying on the floor, the boot of one man pinning down his neck.
In the city of Essen, police are looking into possible abuse in the Opti Park home for asylum seekers, which houses about 300 refugees. Charges of criminal assault were pressed in three cases, a spokesman said.
The events in Burbach and Essen are scandalous, said Sebastian Fiedler, deputy national chairman of the Federation of German Detectives (BDK). Cutting costs seems to be an issue, while security checks haven't been high enough on the agenda, he told DW.
Unsuited for the job
"It's a scandal because Germany is not in a position to guarantee the safety of people who have come here seeking protection and refuge, but instead is trying to cut corners and save money wherever possible while turning a blind eye."
The rising number of asylum seekers in Germany also appears to have put a strain on security companies. "The problem is that contractors don't look closely at applicants' credentials in every single case - in this case, the suspects even had a criminal background," the BDK expert said.
European Homecare, one of the main operators of refugee shelters in Germany that also runs the Burbach facility, had engaged subcontractor SKI which allegedly engaged another subcontractor. Local authorities said they had ended the contract with SKI.
European Homecare admitted the surge of asylum seekers in Germany has led to a watering down of standards. But a spokeswoman said the company has drawn up new standards to prevent abuse cases from recurring.
Refugee shelters run by charitable or private organizations in North Rhine-Westphalia are supported financially by the municipalities - but not in full. The agencies try to cut costs by commissioning private security firms, who have apparently hired untrained staff.
More people than ever are seeking asylum in wealthy countries, the UN refugee agency said last week, largely because of war and instability in Syria, Iraq and other global hotspots. Germany tops the list of new asylum claims with 65,700 applications.
The German government plans to host an international conference in October on the refugee crisis triggered by the conflict in Syria. It's expected to focus on what can be done to help countries affected by the mass exodus of refugees.
Left to their own devices
What local authorities in Germany need is more support, the Chairman of the German Police Union said on Monday in an urgent appeal to Berlin and the state governments.
Communities must be put in a position where they are capable of taking in greater numbers of refugees, Rainer Wendt said in an interview with German news channel n-tv. "Unfortunately, with the personnel they have, they can't always meet demands, so they sometimes have to resort to private security firms." Wendt added, all staff must of course be carefully chosen and supervised - which requires more staff.
Refugee homes can't be lawless territory, Germany's Pro Asyl human rights organization warned on Monday. "Apparently, there was no supervision at all," the organization said.
The security guards in Burbach have since been replaced, but police union chairman Wendt said hiring subcontractors to protect refugee shelters should be forbidden altogether.