Over 2.5 years after the start of the main trial about the abuse of asylum seekers in a reception center in western Germany, four men were dealt monetary fines. The case from 2014 in the small town of Burbach had triggered widespread outrage and forced regional governments to reassess the standards at such facilities.
The trial of 38 guards and social workers accused of abusing asylum seekers at an initial reception center in 2014 began in November 2018.
Now, on Wednesday (July 7), three security guards and one social worker were sentenced to pay between €900 and €3,500 in fines for depriving asylum seekers of their freedom, a spokesperson of the district court in Siegen said. One of the four was also convicted of coercion.
The court found nine cases in which defendants locked up asylum seekers in so-called "problem rooms", for instance because they smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol. In the remaining cases, the defendants were acquitted.
According to the judges, the fact that the deeds further traumatized the asylum seekers, who came to Germany to seek protection, increased the penalty. However, the court also said that the verdict was mitigated by the facts that none of the men were trained in dealing with asylum seekers in an emergency accommodation and them showing remorse. Moreover, only one of them had been previously convicted.
According to news agency AFP, one of the defendants was suffering from psychological and financial problems due to the length of the trial.
Assault, coercion, theft, deprivation of liberty
Much of the media focus was on a particular instance where a picture was leaked of a guard stepping on the neck of a person lying on the floor with handcuffs behind his back. Another incriminating photograph from the Burbach asylum center shows a refugee made to lie on a mattress that was soaked in vomit. Because of these images, the facility earned the nickname 'Germany's Abu Ghraib.'
The trial looked at several dozen accounts of abuse at the Burbach asylum center dating back as far as late 2013. The allegations against the initially 38 indicted people were assault, coercion, theft and deprivation of liberty.
So far, 14 of those 38 people have been convicted, including the former director of the facility, who was sentenced to one year and three months on parole in 2019. Moreover, six of the accused were acquitted and three trials were stopped. One defendant has died since the trial began and eight stand-alone trials are ongoing.
'Lie down in your vomit and sleep'
The abuse of the asylum seekers came to light in 2014 through photographs on mobile phones and one video.
According to reports by weekly news magazine Der Spiegel and other German media, staff at the Burbach asylum reception center used barbaric methods in response to even the smallest of transgressions against community rules at the facility.
Among other things, one asylum seeker was beaten and locked up for five days after arriving back at the center drunk and past curfew. Other residents were reportedly slapped across the face, beaten with sticks until passing out, bound to lamp posts, pepper-sprayed, or told to "lie down in your vomit and sleep" after being punched to the point of becoming sick.
Some of the guards on trial alleged they had been attacked by asylum seekers -- at least in some cases, and that there was a high prevalence of trauma and aggression among them. One of the main defendants in the case, however, said there was an overall negative atmosphere at the facility, and that other guards "enjoyed" bullying the asylum seekers.
With epd, AFP