A refugee centre in Bautzen
A refugee centre in Bautzen was damaged in a fire, police said Getty

Bystanders cheered as a building planned to host refugees in eastern Germany went up in flames, German police said. The fire in the early hours of Sunday morning destroyed the roof of a former hotel in Bautzen, Saxony, which was being converted into a shelter for refugees.

The cause of the blaze is unknown, but police said that onlookers gathered outside to watch "commenting with derogatory remarks or unashamed joy" on the fire. Three people were ordered to leave the scene and two detained for failing to obey the order after attempting to prevent firefighters tackling the blaze, said police.

The premier of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, described them as "criminals".

The shelter was supposed to house 300 refugees.

On Thursday, a crowd in the Saxon town of Clausnitz blocked a coach carrying refugees to a shelter. Police defended their handling of the incident after videos emerged of a chanting crowd surrounding the bus and police roughly bundling a refugee youth from the coach.

Police said there were too few officers to prevent the demonstration, and youths on the coach had provoked the crowd.

The incidents come amid increasing opposition to German chancellor Angela Merkel's open door policy to refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East. Tens of thousands have attended rallies by anti-immigrant group Pegida in Dresden, east Germany, which is attempting to capitalise on the crisis.