World News

Newly built Austrian refugee shelter set on fire

VIENNA (Reuters) - A building in northern Austria that was due to house dozens of asylum seekers was deliberately set on fire, the Red Cross said on Wednesday, a relatively rare attack on a refugee center in a country that has taken in many migrants.

The new wooden building in the town of Altenfelden, near Austria’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic, caught fire overnight. The Red Cross, which owns the building, later said arson was the cause.

“It was a shock for us,” Red Cross spokesman Stefan Neubauer said, adding that 48 people had been due to move into the building in two weeks’ time. “It was an act of vandalism with which we have not been confronted yet.”

Wooden buildings are being used as a cheaper form of accommodation in Austria, which last year took in 90,000 asylum seekers, more than 1 percent of its population, and has scrambled to house them in decent conditions.

Police said two fire sources had been found at the building’s external walls, adding that arson was the presumed cause of the blaze.

Austria’s Interior Ministry said an investigation was under way and referred to a report last month showing a rise in far-right crimes in 2015.

“There can be no tolerance for extremist criminal acts,” Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said in a statement. “Violence against those seeking protection is not the solution and is a breeding ground for radicalisation.”

Europe’s migration crisis has heightened public concerns about security and jobs, fuelling a rise in support for far-right parties in Austria, Germany and other European countries.

Despite the growing popularity in Austria of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, whose presidential candidate Norbert Hofer narrowly lost a run-off election last week, violent attacks on centers for new immigrants are rare.

“We want to build a new house on the same site,” Neubauer said, estimating the damage at 300,000 euros ($335,190).

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle and Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich