Vigilante group beat mentally-ill refugee and tie him to tree

When an Iraqi refugee got into an argument with staff at a supermarket in Saxony, three men dressed in black dragged him out, beat him and tied him to a tree. Police let the men go.

Vigilante group beat mentally-ill refugee and tie him to tree
A sign titled "angry citizens" that says "stop the asylum delusion" and "no to housing". Photo: DPA

As can be seen from a video uploaded to YouTube, the Iraqi man, who was being treated in a mental health clinic in the town, was standing opposite the check-out holding a bottle by his side.

The language barrier is causing confusion. The man speaks in Arabic as the check-out woman at discount retailer Netto in Arnsdorf repeatedly asks him in German to put the bottle down.

The man does not appear violent in the video, nor does he raise the bottle. But the staff appear afraid to approach him.

After around two minutes of this stand-off three men dressed in black walk into the shop, collar the man and drag him out. When he appears to resist, they brutally beat him.

The video ends with a woman saying “it’s such a pity that we need a self-defence group.”

According to police, it was the third time that day that the mentally ill man had entered the supermarket after the SIM card he had bought for his mobile phone there didn’t seem to work. On the first two occasions the police had arrived and taken him back to the hospital.

Staff at the shop claim that the man grabbed the bottle from the shelf and acted threateningly towards them.

After the end of the video, the men reportedly dragged the Iraqi man into the parking lot and tied him with cable ties to a tree.

When police arrived shortly afterwards, the men explained they wanted to prevent his escape.

Officers told the men to leave without asking for their identification.

Police are now investigating the Iraqi refugee on suspicion of threatening people. They are also investigating the as-yet unidentified men on suspicion of unlawful detention.

'Horrible and shameful'

According to the Sächsiche Zeitung, at least one of the culprits is already well known in the town – because he is a local politician for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Town councillor Detlef Oelsner defended his actions with the group in a council meeting, saying they had shown “civil courage” and that they would have reacted the same way “if he was German.”

“This was no form of self-defence. This was an attack with massive physical violence that clearly went beyond the bounds of the law,” Thomas Dudzak, spokesman for the Left Party in Saxony, told The Local.

As far his party is concerned, the attack was racially motivated, he added.

“One can certainly doubt that they would have reacted the same way had this been a German.”

“The pictures from Arnsdorf are horrible and shameful, it’s another incident that makes you shudder,” Daniela Kolbe, general-secretary for the Social Democratic Party in Saxony told The Local.

“The state needs to pay more attention to vigilante groups. What happened in Arnsdorf needs to be decisively acted against. The state is there to look out for security and justice, not some self-proclaimed hobby sheriffs.”

Vigilantes on the rise

Every since the events in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, when hundreds of women reported being sexually assaulted by men of Middle Eastern appearance, Bürgerwehr (citizens' defence) groups have been popping up in cities across Germany.

These groups are normally organized over Facebook, and even in quiet towns with almost no crime they can garner thousands of likes, reports the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Especially in the angst-ridden weeks after Cologne, volunteers would patrol the streets, often in pairs and with dogs.

In many cases these organizations are believed to be a guise for far-right groups to carry out their racist ideology in the name of protecting normal civilians.

In January, Berlin daily Tagesspiegel reported on information from the Interior Ministry that seven of these groups across the country had far-right organizations behind them.

In the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the leader of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) called for the formation of “citizens' defence units” to protect people against “the rapists and murderers” entering the country.

Members of one Bürgerwehr in the Saxon town of Freital could face terrorism charges, as they are suspected of carrying out arson and explosive attacks on refugee homes.

A 'citizens'-defence group' in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

Saxony’s ‘racist’ police

The eastern state of Saxony, where the Iraqi refugee was tied to the tree, has become notorious for its hostility to refugees and Muslims in general.

State capital Dresden is the home of Pegida, the xenophobic street movement which holds regular rallies in the city centre against “the Islamization of the West.”

The group’s leader, Lutz Bachmann, was recently convicted of using hate speech after calling refugees “scum” and “cattle.”

On other occasions, locals in various towns have protested against asylum homes, mobbed buses carrying asylum seekers, and tried to prevent fire services from putting out the blaze of an arson attack on a refugee home.

Saxony’s police too have been criticized by the state’s deputy minister-president for having a racism problem.

The behaviour of police in Saxony came under scrutiny after disturbing video emerged of officers dragging a terrified refugee from a bus in the town of Clausnitz while a mob of anti-refugees demonstrators blocked the vehicle.

This latest incident is also raising questions about the professionalism of the police in the eastern state, with local media pointing out failures in their reporting and how they reacted to the incident.

The incident occurred on May 21st, but police took over ten days to publicize it, and only did so after video emerged, Bild reports.

Dudzak from the Left Party said that it was “strange that the men were ordered to leave the scene rather than have their identities checked”.

“There is  proof that the police in Saxony have links to the far-right scene, including to the NPD. One must ask if they have the necessary distance from these groups to be able to perform their jobs properly.”

But he cautioned that one should not jump to conclusions about the incident in Arnsdorf too quickly.

“There needs to be an inquiry on the part of the police hierarchy as to why the officers behaved as they did.”

For members


What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’