Police take part in a raid on a center for asylum seekers in Cottbus on June 13, 2018
Police take part in a raid on a center for asylum seekers in Cottbus on June 13, 2018

In the eastern city of Cottbus, Chechen asylum-seekers say police made them remove their pants while in detention after a fight. While the city told DW it's open to dialogue, it refutes some of their claims.

The eastern German city of Cottbus has found itself again at the center of controversy and on the defensive on Thursday after a group of asylum-seekers from Chechnya sent an open letter accusing the city's police and politicians of "racist" mistreatment.

The open letter from 25 Chechen families, which was reported on by local public broadcaster rbb on Monday, details the asylum-seekers' concerns. Among other issues involving integration, it includes their appeal for new housing in order to reduce clashes between groups of asylum-seekers in the center where they are being housed.

Alleged abuses by police

Many of the claims involved the Cottbus police, who are alleged to have mistreated over two dozen Chechen men who had been detained following a fight with a group of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan in the night between June 12 and 13.

Police allegedly refused to give water to detainees who needed to take medication, and appeared to punish those who requested it.

"After asking for water, one man had to remove his pants and spend the rest of the time in the cell wearing only his underwear," the letter states, according to rbb.

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Other men were also forced to wait out their time in police detention only in their underwear. The detainees were not allowed to wear shoes while using the bathroom, which was described as being "intolerably" unhygienic.

In raids on the asylum-seeker center the following day, police allegedly threatened a woman with a weapon in front of her children, causing one of her daughters to now "panic" when she sees police officers.

City defends against claims

The city of Cottbus said it was open to discussing the issues, but that not everyone involved in the clashes took the city up on its offer.

"You can talk to us, you just have to go to the responsible department, and that [department] is known," Cottbus city spokesman Jan Glossmann told DW.

Glossmann also dismissed claims in the letter that the housing situation for asylum-seekers in the center is untenable.

"People are certainly not cramped living there. They are completely normal apartments, where German renters are also living. But for some, that is apparently not enough," he said.

The city has also ruled out their appeal to be moved into alternate housing, with Glossmann noting that their asylum-applications may not be successful.

"It has to be said: the prospects of remaining [in Germany] for various Chechen families are not the best. So it is not necessary to distribute them in the city now," he added.

Violent clashes between asylum-seekers

Police in Brandenburg, the state where Cottbus is located, said they stand by their colleagues' actions on the night in question.

Brandenburg police chief Hans-Jürgen Mörke told rbb that the more severe charges of mistreatment were being investigated, but that local authorities' response to the fights in June was appropriate.

"If we determine that such things are true, then we will respond accordingly," Mörke said.

In the evening from June 12 to 13, police logged several clashes that had broken out between asylum-seekers, particularly between Chechens and Afghans.

A Chechen man suffered knife wounds during a fight that broke out at a sports field and several others suffered head wounds. Later on in the hospital, the fighting between the groups continued when a Chechen swung a fire extinguisher at an Afghan man's head.

In a series of statements, police acknowledged that they'd detained 26 men from Chechnya that night and that they'd carried out raids on the center where the asylum-seekers were living.

During the raids, police secured golf clubs, wooden planks and bicycle locks that were allegedly used the night before as weapons.

"With these measures, police show clearly and resolutely that these incidents will not be tolerated," police said in their statement.

Vladimir Esipov contributed reporting.

Author: Rebecca Staudenmaier

First published: July 5, 2018

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