During my recent time in Berlin, Germany, I was interviewed by one of Germany’s leading newspapers, Berliner Zeitung, about Europe’s growing reliance on privatised and unaccountable detention facilities for refugees. I’ve investigated this issue in my book, Disaster Capitalism.
The interview was conducted in English and then translated into German. I’m a German citizen but sadly my local language skills are lacking.
Please find the Google Translated version of the interview below (with some corrections attached):
Antony Loewenstein is an Australian journalist with German roots. His Jewish family fled in 1939 from the Nazis. Loewenstein writes a column in the Guardian and deals primarily with the networking of transnational corporations and their influence on political processes.
His new nonfiction book “Disaster Capitalism” deals with the profiteers of the refugee crisis. Loewenstein was based in Sydney but had a research stay at the WZB Science Center Berlin and deals with the US anti-drug war.
The Australian bestselling author and Guardian columnist Antony Loewenstein explains in an interview how business is done with the refugee crisis in Germany and the world.
The Australian bestselling author and Guardian columnist Antony Loewenstein, well known for “My Israel Question” (2006), has researched his new, highly acclaimed book “Disaster Capitalism” and now present in Berlin. In this interview he explains how business is done with the refugee crisis in Germany and the world.
Mr Loewenstein, you research for years on the subject of privatization of refugee care. What does it mean exactly?
It is all about the privatization of refugee centers. My home Australia is the only Western country that has outsourced all accommodations for migrants to private providers. In these camps, located partly on the Pacific Islands, there have been countless cases of physical and sexual abuse by security guards.
Because the operators want to make a profit, they hire poorly trained and unqualified personnel. The health care is insufficient, because the companies are willing to spend just a little money.
Could not happen in government-run institutions such incidents?
Of course there are such problems in public institutions. But there are clear indications that wherever refugees are considered sources of profit, the conditions in the facilities for staff and refugees are worse. There is no incentive for companies to offer money for good performance.
See the problem in Germany?
Yes, Germany and some neighboring countries have partly outsourced to private companies, the refugee support. European Homecare and ORS are important players.
European Homecare stand accused in 2014 because guards abused refugees in a facility in Burbach. Last year, there was criticism of the conditions in a refugee camp near Vienna.
Such problems are inevitable. But governments that outsource refugee accommodation to private companies, it does not matter. Traiskirchen is a perfect example of the failure of a privately run facility: The operator ORS has deliberately chosen to spend as little money as possible for food and living space. The result was that refugees had to sleep under the stars and got bad, sometimes rotten food. The overcrowding was rampant.
What about the staff in private institutions?
The staff is trained often poorly and can not adequately deal with problems that arise from working with traumatized refugees. My research in Australia, the US and the UK showed that staff hardly help in coping with work stress’ condition in private institutions and often develop psychological problems themselves. In public refugee facilities that I visited in different countries, this is much less the case.
Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees in the previous year. Many communities are highly indebted and unable to cope with the supply. Is it not natural to seek help from private providers?
In the short term perhaps and I can understand local politician want to solve the problem quickly, perhaps even before the next election. But based on the experience in Australia, Britain and the United States, it is almost certain that there will be abuse. I believe that certain social responsibilities – I am thinking the care of refugees – should not be privatized. This very vulnerable group of persons should not be an object of profit.
If the refugee accommodation for businesses lucrative?
The company Serco has an exclusive deal with the Australian Government, all facilities on the mainland. The contract comes to a total of more than one billion dollars. So there is to earn a lot of money.
What would municipalities gain from pursuing all facilities themselves?
Private providers are more expensive in the longer term. If ever new refugees arrive in large numbers, providers will renegotiate contracts in order to get better terms. I have already observed this in Australia, the UK and the USA. The contracts that seem cheap can become expensive so quickly. For the local authorities it will not pay off financially to take matters into their own hands.