When a house used to shelter refugees was burned down in an arson attack last week, there seemed to be no doubt about the motives behind it. Someone had sprayed a swastika on one of the house's walls, which made investigators believe that they were dealing with right-wing extremism. Local politicians in the city of Bingen were shocked and immediately set up a pro-refugee march to advocate for tolerance.
That was before a Syrian refugee — an inhabitant of the house — reportedly confessed to the crime.
According to police, the 26-year-old had lived in the house for more than half a year and wanted to express his dissatisfaction with the accommodations, which he described as cramped. He has since been jailed, as investigators search for explanations and evidence.
A similar scene played out in the town of Winsen in the eastern German state of Lower Saxony on Sunday. There, a 17-year-old allegedly set on fire an asylum center where he and more than 20 others lived. Nobody was injured in the attack.
Both incidents are likely to fuel anti-refugee tensions in Germany, which have risen since Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to open the borders for Syrian refugees in the fall. More than 1 million people arrived in the country last year alone.
Although the number of daily arrivals has significantly decreased in recent months, the fallout continues to shape German politics. The Alternative für Deutschland party celebrated major successes in regional state elections and is the third most popular party on a national level, according to polls.
The two main traditional political parties — Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats — have lost public support as a consequence. On Monday, the Social Democratic prime minister of the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, Malu Dreyer, was quick to condemn the attack in Bingen but defended blaming right-wing extremists for the crime last week.
"At first, there were many indications for a xenophobic crime. I am all the more surprised that the attacker is a refugee," Dreyer was quoted as saying.
Last year, more than 200 asylum centers were set on fire, according to an analysis by German weekly Die Zeit. Right-wing extremists committed most of those crimes.