Onlookers celebrated as a suspected arson fire damaged a former hotel being converted into a refugee home in eastern Germany, police said Sunday, raising new concerns about violence toward migrants in a nation that registered more than a million asylum-seekers last year. The blaze in the roof of the building in Bautzen, in the eastern state of Saxony, broke out overnight. Police said no one was injured, but a group of people gathered outside, some "commenting with derogatory remarks or unashamed joy" at the fire. Police ordered three people to leave the fire scene because they were hampering firefighters' work and then temporarily detained two of them, whom they described as intoxicated 20-year-old locals, after they ignored the order.
Investigators found traces of a fire accelerant at the scene and believe the fire was caused by arson, police said. While most Germans have been welcoming toward refugees, a vocal minority has staged protests in front of refugee homes, especially in the east. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that everyone in Germany is entitled to express their concerns, "but there is a threshold of decency and law that must not be crossed." "It is completely unacceptable for people who are seeking protection from persecution here to be greeted with hatred and agitation," he added. (German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she expects many of the refugees to leave when wars in their homelands have ended.)