The town of Tröglitz, site of an arson attack against a planned refugee house, has been chosen by extremists as a stage for xenophobic protests, says Götz Ulrich, district coordinator of refugee accommodation.
DW: What is the atmosphere now in Tröglitz in the wake of Saturday's arson attack on the refugee housing block?
Götz Ulrich: I would call the mood here one of distress. Even among those who had voiced their opposition to the house, there is shock and horror that it has come to this. At a demonstration of solidarity for refugees and foreigners immediately after the attack on Saturday, a number of villagers voiced their support for the house - but there were opponents there too.
How did these opponents react?
At first, they stayed on the fringes. But then there were a number of us - myself included - that wanted to engage in dialogue with them. I'm not alleging anything of anyone at this point - the investigations are ongoing - but I had the feeling when I was talking to these people, that they realized that their public protests against the refugee house in a way led to the horrific criminal act of arson.
The mayor of Tröglitz, Markus Nierth, stepped down last month due to threats against himself and his wife, made by members of Germany's right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD) during marches outside his house. Nierth told DW that Saturday's arson was an indication that the 'seeds of neo-Nazism are germinating' here: Can refugees still be brought into this climate of overt xenophobia?
There are numerous examples here in the Burgenlandkreis [district that comprises Tröglitz and some 30 other municipalities] where refugees have been taken in and integrated: Hohenmölsen, Eckartsberga, Naumburg, Weißenfels, Zeitz, to name only a few municipalities.
What has happened in Tröglitz is an exception. But I must say: the challenge won't only be for the refugees here. The authorities and politicians will encounter significant difficulties. Unfortunately, very few people here will be applauding our efforts for integration. Just today, I received another batch of emails where they are insulting and threatening us for "taking further steps" [with regard to the refugee house].
The "further steps" referred to here concern your pledge to take in the 40 refugees who were to move into the house? Where will they stay now?
The housing block was damaged so severely that any renovation will take at least a few months. It's not only fire damage; during the firefighting operations, extensive damage was also incurred. However, we have already received offers from the community to accommodate refugees - in empty housing and even personal apartments. We are going to have to step up efforts to ensure quickly that we can make this happen, so that a signal can be sent to whoever committed this crime: for refugees, in particular those from war zones, the door in Tröglitz is open.
What is it about Tröglitz that has made this message so hard to get across?
If we had a clear answer to that question, we would perhaps be able to confront the problem in a better way. I believe personally that it has less to do with the people who actually live here, and far more with figures from the far-right who have chosen Tröglitz as a stage for their demonstrations. It has developed into a situation in which these people are attempting to see if they can influence policy - to see if the right-wing scene has enough power to prevent the Burgenlandkreis from opening its doors to refugees.
When the asylum seekers arrive in Tröglitz, they will certainly catch wind of what has happened here. What is being planned to help these people?
That is something that the people living here will have to take into their own hands. They are going to have to build on the network that's been established so people feel welcome. Just a few days ago, we were in Hohenmölsen - a neighboring village - to see how asylum seekers were getting along. When they arrived, they were given presents.
From our side, when the refugees arrive in Tröglitz, we will offer round-the-clock police protection. We will also have integration specialists and social workers on the ground who will accompany professionally the volunteer work that will have to take place.
Götz Ulrich is in charge of organizing the accommodation of asylum seekers in the Burgenlandkreis, which is located at the southern tip of the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt.