Berlin breaks contract with refugee housing firm over ‘child-guillotine’ email jokes

Authorities in the German capital decided to tear up all contracts with the refugee shelter managing company after emails leaked to the local media showed that its senior employees were cracking sick jokes about refugee children.

Building a child guillotine in a Berlin’s refugee center located in the eastern Berlin’s district of Hellersdorf was suggested by one of the facility managers as a way of spending a €5,000 ($5,640) donation after the idea of building a sandpit for the refugee children was dismissed on the basis that the shelter’s “residents would quickly turn it into an ashtray or a local toilet.”

“What about if we instead have a small child-guillotine? Or perhaps a basketball hoop,” the shelter’s managing employee identified as Peggy M., said in one of the emails leaked to the local BZ daily.

Other senior employees working for the Professional Housing and Assistance Company (Pewobe) that managed the shelter alongside with about a dozen similar facilities in Berlin quickly picked up the idea and made fun of it by sending Peggy M. photos featured real guillotines, beheaded people and a children’s slide with a barbed cheese-grater at the end.

“OHHHHH how nice!!!” Peggy M. said in response and went on to complain that beheading refugee children would cause a mess. Pewobe managing director Birgit B. then echoed her words by saying that “no one wants to clean up the mess; I at least would not,” and adding that “in principle that would be a nice job for the maximally pigmented.”

Birgit B. also said that she “personally find the guillotine to be a totally good suggestion – it will however bring us back into the press and we don’t want that.” The company’s senior employees also discussed the issue of disposing of the beheaded bodies finally coming up with an idea of a "large-volume crematorium." They also said that the crematorium would award them an environmental certificate as its waste heat would be “used for a cause.”

The emails were leaked to Berlin’s authorities and the local media over the weekend and provoked a wave of indignation among the local politicians. Berlin’s Social Affairs Minister Mario Czaja said he was “appalled” by the emails, adding that “the current handling of the unspeakable – and as far as I'm concerned inexplicable and unjustifiable – email correspondence shows that we can no longer work with PeWoBe," as reported by the German media.

Berlin’s Integration Minister Dilek Kolat denounced the emails as “abhorrent” and “going beyond all limits” while the head of the Green Party’s faction in the local legislature, Ramona Pop called for checking the emails for essential elements of a crime and urged Berlin’s authorities to break all contracts with Pewobe, as reported by Tagesspiegel.

Czaja later announced that he had canceled all of the firm’s contracts for refugee shelter management without notice, citing concerns caused by repeated deficiencies in several shelters managed by the firm.

“The deficiencies were not fully rectified even after repeated inspections…this is not a model for a company that we would want to continue to work with,” he said, as quoted by Tagesspiegel. Czaja added that “none of the shelters will be closed” as Berlin’s authorities are now looking for a new managing company for them.

In the meantime, Pewobe lawyer, Christian-Oliver Moser, told BZ that the statements had been taken out of context and should not be interpreted seriously. He also added that the word guillotine was actually a mistake that appeared in the emails due to the smartphone autocorrect function.

Meanwhile, the emails were also handed over to the German domestic intelligence and security service BfV for additional checks, BZ reports.

Doubtful reputation

Pewobe previously found itself mired in scandal. Refugees and activists repeatedly complained about poor living conditions in shelters managed by the company. According to Der Tagesspiegel, sanitation conditions in the Pewobe-managed shelter in the Berlin’s district of Lichtenberg were “bad beyond belief.”

In the Hellersdorf shelter, the living conditions were also reported to be “unbearable.”

In May, it was also revealed that Peggy M., who when in charge of the Hellersdorf shelter, had a far-right background and even ran for a far-right German People’s Union Party (DVU) in the local elections in the town of Bernau in 2008. The DVU later merged with the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany.

According to Deutsche Welle, Peggy M. introduced herself to the refugees at the shelter with the words "I am the boss, you are nothing." She also that the WiFi be turned off at the shelter immediately, according to a local "Hellersdorf Hilft" (Hellersdorf Helps) activist group.

"It's unfortunate that it took this email scandal for the company to be dismissed," the group’s spokesman, Stephan Jung, told Deutsche Welle.

Pewobe also stood accused of forging employee lists to conceal the fact that they had far fewer personnel than the city of Berlin required from the shelter managing companies.

Meanwhile, Germany faces a growing number of criminal offenses have been committed against refugee shelters as the country is being flooded with an unending inflow of refugees and migrants. According to the EU statistics, 175,000 first time asylum applicants were registered in Germany in the first quarter of 2016 accounting for 61 percent of all applicants in the all EU member states over the same period.

At the same time, asylum centers have been the target of 665 attacks since the beginning of the year, most of which were “clearly” far-right inspired, according to a recently published police report.

More than 1 million refugees, mostly from North Africa and the Middle East, arrived in Germany last year. The open-door policy pursued by Merkel has triggered a rise in right-wing sentiment. A recent series of terrorist attacks, with three of them committed by migrants, combined with reports of Islamic State terrorists infiltrating Germany disguised as refugees has only fueled the tension.