The German authorities are investigating a fire that destroyed a warehouse used as a refugee shelter in the western city of Düsseldorf this week. The fire broke out after a dispute over a decision to scale back the midday meal during the month of Ramadan, when many Muslims fast during the day.
The police say five male shelter residents are suspected of setting the fire, which broke out on Tuesday after the afternoon meal service was reduced in consideration for Muslim residents. All of the approximately 130 residents were able to escape the fire, but several suffered injuries related to smoke inhalation.
Residents have complained for months about conditions in the shelter, which used temporary walls to divide the separate living areas but did not afford residents full privacy, said Ralf Herrenbrück, a spokesman for prosecutors in Düsseldorf, on Friday. After the fire, most refugees were transferred to temporary shelters set up in public gymnasiums.
The blaze, which caused damage estimated at 10 million euros, or $11.3 million, has received widespread attention amid fears that it will serve as further fodder for the country’s rightist, populist Alternative for Germany party. Earlier this year, the party passed a platform that included language against Muslims.
The Düsseldorf police said that since the start of the year, they had responded to more than 80 calls to the shelter to settle disputes, including several instances of attempted arson.
“There were conflicts, especially surrounding meals, between Muslims and others who were not fasting for Ramadan and complained at the lack of a warm meal at midday,” Mr. Herrenbrück said.
“Following another serious fight on Tuesday, certain people went to the back of the shelter, and shortly afterward, a fire broke out and they came out with their bags packed,” he said. The police said they had found evidence that a mattress was set alight.
The police have detained two 26-year-old men suspected of serving as ringleaders. They were identified only as Adel D., an Algerian who was already under investigation in a case of theft earlier this year, and Mohamed B. from Morocco, who has no known police record in Germany.
The others suspected of involvement are a 16-year-old Algerian, an 18-year-old Moroccan and a 24-year-old Syrian. Several of the suspects had entered Germany under false names and nationalities, and had to be identified through their fingerprints, which are checked against an international database, the police said.
The Alternative for Germany party is also campaigning against the proposed construction of a mosque on the outskirts of the eastern city of Erfurt, where local leaders have led regular rallies warning of the dangers that Islam poses to Europe and Germany in particular.
German officials have warned of growing anti-refugee sentiment in the country. Since the arrival last year of roughly one million asylum seekers, many of them from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Germany has seen a jump in the number of racially motivated attacks. At the same time, Alternative for Germany has attracted support with its slogans against Muslims and immigrants.