Institutional racism and a lack of government action are placing Germany’s most desperate groups into the hands of neo-Nazis.
Far-right extremists have been trying to infiltrate the private security service industry in Germany for years.
But with the recent influx of refugees to the country and more and more private security personnel being hired specifically to work in refugee reception and detention centers, there is growing evidence that extremists are capitalizing on the situation.
On Thursday, Priska Komaromi published a report in the Institute of Race Relations featuring an interview with Volker Eick, a political scientist who works with the Progressive Lawyers’ Association and an expert on private security companies in Germany.
Eick confirms what some have long feared: security guards in refugee reception centers repeatedly commit violence against residents, abusing those they are supposedly hired to “protect.”
According to the German Federal Association for Security Industries, at least 5,000 to 10,000 security guards work at asylum reception centers in Germany, all employed by private security firms with no background checks performed by state authorities.
In late 2014, footage from a refugee reception center in Burbach, Germany emerged showing a security guard standing on the head of a refugee.
Another video from the same year showed guards forcing a refugee to lie in his own vomit.
Not only have the guards responsible not been prosecuted, but attacks on refugee detention centers reached unprecedented levels in 2015, when at least 222 arson attacks were reported throughout Germany.
Besides employment at detention facilities enabling direct and intimate access to refugees, Eick explains why far-right groups are actively seeking work in the profession.
A cell phone photo showing a man lying on the ground and two security men standing on his head | Photo: Police NRW
“There is the widespread (and not unfounded) assumption that you can behave like Crocodile Dundee if you work for a private security company … the authoritarian nature of this line of work is attractive to neo-Nazis.”
Easy access to the industry is also proving attractive, as few qualifications are needed and high levels of unemployment in poorer areas of the country are a driving factor.
But in some parts of Germany the link between security companies and members of neo-Nazi groups runs much deeper. Last year, the German “Ihre Wache GmbH” security firm was accused by its own employees of directly working with neo-Nazis.
Another security firm, called Zarnikow, even hired a member of a local neo-Nazi organization after he was released from a five-year prison sentence for almost killing a Bosnian migrant.
The Government’s Responsibility
In 2002, Saxony-Anhalt intelligence services warned of militant neo-Nazi organizations trying to seize control of the security market. But not much has happened since. In fact, the industry has increasingly outsourced its services to an unregulated private security sector.
According to Eick, this has mainly happened as a cost-cutting measure, which is beneficial to the state. But it also “deflects any direct responsibility for violence or ill-treatment of refugees to private companies,” he says.
Outsourcing the security of refugees to for-profit companies is cheaper as they are paid low wages compared to trained police officers, which in Germany have to go through an extensive three-year training program.
After a degree of public pressure, the Federal government set up a task force to investigate the status of the security industry, but Eick is sceptical that the recommended annual checks on staff by state authorities will even take place.
Moreover, he is convinced the situation could be improved if the political will were to exist, but a lack of resources coupled with institutional racism is to blame.
“The police are unwilling to seriously investigate cases where refugees and asylum seekers are attacked, and unwilling to prevent such attacks – they are simply not taking these cases as seriously as if they had happened to Germans.”
As Priska Komaromi concludes, “Not only does the increased privatization of asylum care actively put the lives of asylum seekers at risk, it also allows the state to absolve itself of responsibility and fails to ensure accountability and justice for the abuses that are committed against asylum seekers.”