Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Romanians flee homes after attack!

Around 20 families gathered outside one house, hoping for safety in numbers

A five-day-old girl is among more than 100 Romanian people who have spent the night in a church hall after fleeing their homes in south Belfast.

The group of about 20 families said they left their homes in the Lisburn Road area after suffering racist attacks for almost a week.

Belfast City Council, the police and social services are due to meet later.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said it was a "totally shameful episode" in the city.

"We need a collective effort to face down this criminals in society who are quite clearly intent on preying on vulnerable women and children," he said.

Most of the Romanian families are are being taken to a leisure centre in south Belfast, where they will spend the rest of the day. They said they did not want to return to their Belfast homes.

Lord Mayor Naomi Long said she did not want to see families "driven from Belfast".

"They have a right to be in Belfast they are part of the fabric of this city. I want to see them treated with the respect and dignity that I would demand for any other citizen," she said.

AT THE SCENE
mark simpson
Mark Simpson, BBC News

Looking at 115 Romanians huddled together on the floor of a Belfast church hall, it was possible to see the worst side of Northern Ireland - and the best - all at once.

The speed with which Pastor Malcolm Morgan and his team created a temporary home for 20 families was remarkable.

At the same time, the sight of men, women and children looking so helpless and scared was a stain on Northern Ireland's international reputation.

Many of the families came to Belfast believing that the years of prejudice and narrow-mindedness were over. However, it seems that in some parts of the city, racism is the new sectarianism.

"This is a small number of people who are engaged in this violence. I understand this is cold comfort to the people affected by it."

Bernie Kelly, from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said it had been a very traumatic experience for the Romanians.

"The whole thing has escalated very quickly," she said.

"Working with the police and all the agencies together we are going to have to find a resolution."

The BBC's Mark Simpson said that in some parts of Belfast racism had become the new sectarianism.

There have been suspicions that a loyalist paramilitary group is involved in the violence, but this has been denied, our correspondent added.

One of the women who took shelter in the church, who did not want to be named, said she was very upset and scared.

She said she had feared the attackers had come to kill her and her family, and she now wanted to go back to Romania.

But the help of the church had shown a positive side to the people of Belfast as well, she added.

Man carrying black bag
A Romanian man helps to move belongings

Earlier, the group of 115 people had tried to take refuge in a single house, but was eventually taken to the church in a police minibus.

Unsafe

Anna Lo of the Alliance Party said the families were "very frightened".

Ms Lo said attacks on Romanian homes - which included bricks being thrown through windows - had been increasing in frequency in recent months.

"They are really very frightened," she said. "The women, when they were talking to me yesterday, they were really upset, tears in their eyes and said, 'You know we love it here, we'd like to live here, but we're too scared.'

"A woman showed me her shoulder which was quite bruised and cut across, she was hit across the shoulder."

Jolena Flett, Racial Harassment Adviser for the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, said they had been threatened verbally and then three properties were attacked on the same day.

"There has been an issue about the families feeling unsafe in the properties they were attacked in. What we are trying to do is provide them with alternative accommodation," she said.

Malcolm Morgan, pastor at the church, said he was happy to help and the Romanians could stay as long as they needed to.

"It's a sad indictment of our society, but hopefully we can show them a different side to Northern Ireland and a caring side of Northern Ireland," he said.

Police patrols have been stepped up in the area and officers are examining CCTV for evidence of those responsible for the attacks.


A spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: "Police in the south Belfast area assisted several organisations in the temporary relocation of a number of families following consultation with community representatives.

"Families moved to a near-by church and they are being cared for by the appropriate agencies."

The families decided to leave their homes after an anti-racist rally on Monday night was attacked.

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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