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Police probe cause of Tröglitz refugee housing fire

Anti-foreigner sentiment has pushed the German town of Tröglitz into the spotlight this year. Less than two months before asylum seekers were due to move there, a fire has damaged their future housing.

Authorities in the eastern German state of Sachsen-Anhalt launched an investigation on Saturday morning into a fire that broke out in the early hours at a home intended for asylum seekers in the town of Tröglitz.

Around 2 a.m. local time (0100 UTC), the building caught fire, with the heaviest damage inflicted on the attic. A married couple was staying in the home at the time of the incident and was able to escape the flames uninjured, according to police.

State investigators emphasized that the cause of the fire was unknown, but that they could not yet "rule out" politically-motivated arson.

Tröglitz, a town of roughly 2,700 residents, drew national attention last month when its mayor, Markus Nierth, resigned over rising far-right xenophobic sentiment after neo-Nazis opposed to the town's decision to take in 40 refugees planned a protest directly outside of his home.

In reaction to the incident, the local government has called for a candlelight demonstration to be held in the center of town at 5 p.m. on Saturday, according to German news website Spiegel Online.

Tröglitz 'probably won't ever recover'

In an interview with the German daily Berliner Tagesspiegel, Nierth expressed his outrage over the incident, saying he assumed someone had started the fire intentionally and that whoever had planned it knew people were inside.

"I'm stunned, sad and angry all at the same time," Nierth said.

The town "probably won't ever recover" from the incident, he added. It will have "incalculable consequences."

On Tuesday, an estimated 500 Tröglitz residents gathered for a town hall meeting to discuss concerns about the expected group of refugees, scheduled to arrive in mid-May.

Unrest in Syria, Iraq and North Africa has fuelled an upsurge in the number of asylum seekers. The United Nations reported last week that 2014 saw the greatest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. Over the last two years, Germany has seen a greater spike in asylum requests than any other EU country. Since 2014, it has received 173,000 asylum applications, more than any other industrialized country.

Because the refugees are to be housed across the whole of Germany, many communities have also expressed a number of concerns including sufficient housing and the feasibility of integrating different cultural groups.

According to the German government, the number of hate crimes against refugees rose in 2014.

kms/lw (AFP, dpa)

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