BERLIN - Police in western Germany said on Wednesday that unidentified arsonists had set fire overnight to housing being prepared for aslyum-seekers, causing 50,000 euros worth of damage, before fleeing the scene in a car. "We cannot yet assess whether there is a racist background to this," police in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate said in a statement. "Other motives are also being investigated." There was no report of anyone being injured in the arson attack in the small town of Limburgerhof, where prefabricated housing was being erected to shelter 16 asylum-seekers.
The arsonists set fire to rolls of bitumen roofing felt and witnesses then saw them "driving off in a black car with screeching tyres", police said.
A similar arson attack last month in the eastern German town of Troeglitz sparked debate about hostility to asylum-seekers in some communities in Germany, after a 60 per cent surge in the number of people seeking shelter in the country last year.
The interior minister is reported to have told lawmakers this week that the number of people seeking asylum could double to 400,000 in 2015.
Concerns about immigration have come to the fore since the grassroots movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) began attracting growing crowds at its rallies late last year, though their numbers have since ebbed.
The government has condemned the attacks and the protests, saying racism has no place in Germany which needs immigrants to offset the shrinkage of its working-age population.