Refugee shelter burnt down in Germany after dispute among asylum seekers over Ramadan meals

One man claimed residents started the fire in frustration over living conditions

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The Independent Online

A refugee centre in Germany has been burnt down following a dispute among residents over Ramadan meals. 

The blaze ripped through accommodation that was home to hundreds of asylum seekers on the site of Düsseldorf trade fair, causing around 130 people to be evacuated and leaving 24 suffering from smoke inhalation.

Footage showed flames rising hundreds of feet into the air, sending a huge column of black smoke into the sky. Authorities are now tearing down the burnt-out hall amid fears the structure was in danger of collapsing.

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Excavators tear down a burnt down hall at Messe Duesseldorf, Germany, 8 June 2016. (EPA)

Ralf Herrenbrück, a senior public prosecutor in the city, said there had been disputes among Muslims living in the home over how to mark Ramadan before the fire broke out on Tuesday.

“There are two groups - one group wants to follow it strictly and so only eat when it's dark while the other group wants to eat at normal times - for example because there are also pregnant women there,” he said.

Pregnancy is one of the many exceptions to daylight fasting stipulated in the Quran, as well as illness or for people travelling.

Mr Herrenbrück said the Red Cross, which is running the home, had decided to provide a basic lunch and only distribute warm food after sunset, to objections from residents who did not want to follow Ramadan strictly.

“They threatened that they would do something if this didn't change and when there was no warm food at lunchtime again on Tuesday, the arson happened,” he added.

Local reports said Christians living at the shelter were also opposed to the arrangement, with some feeling that Muslims were being prioritised with plans for dinner at 10pm.

One of the suspects told Express he and others started the fire out of frustration over living conditions, saying: “We want our rights, we want to live better.”

The newspaper reported that another fire had been started three weeks ago and that fights between Arab residents and Iranians and Afghans happened regularly.

A mattress is believed to have been doused with alcohol and then set on fire with a lighter, starting a blaze that spread through the shelter destroying beds and belongings.

Düsseldorf Police said several suspects had been arrested. The two main suspects, both 26-year-old men from North Africa, are accused of arson.

A 24-year-old Syrian man, two Moroccans aged 18 and 26 and two Algerian men aged 16 and 26 are also being investigated.

Police said several of the men had been living in the accommodation under false names and having given false birth dates and countries of origin. A 36-member investigation body has been assigned to the case.

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A Pegida march in Cologne in January attracted 1,700 people (Getty Images)

More than a million asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year and while they were initially welcomed, public attitudes have shifted following the Cologne sexual assaults and concerns about immigration. 

Support has risen for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and anti-Islam groups like Pegida, while the German interior ministry said the refugee crisis was the main cause of a record year for political violence in 2015.

Attacks on asylum seekers have been reported, as well as efforts by vigilante mobs to “clean up” Cologne after a string of sexual assaults and robberies on New Year's Eve stoked tensions. 

As the number of homes for asylum-seekers have swelled, so too have crimes targeting them, which more than quadrupled to 1,031 last year, including four attempted murders, eight explosives offences, 60 assaults and 94 arsons.

Vandalism including the spraying of swastikas and racist and neo-Nazi slogans on migrant accommodation has also been reported, with only a quarter of the crimes being solved so far.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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