5 February 2004 Edition

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The tip of the iceberg

In the aftermath of Belfast's anti-racism rally, a report issued by the Housing Executive has revealed that more than 30 families and individuals have been forced to flee their homes in the last year due to racially-motivated attacks.

For the first time, the Housing Executive has compiled separate figures on ethnic minorities desperate to move after suffering racial intimidation. The results reveal that the Executive dealt with an average of two cases a month over a 12-month period.

The figures also disclose that out of the 30 cases examined, only 17 applicants were accepted as homeless, while the remaining 13 were forced to abandon their applications because they were found "ineligible for assistance" under immigration or homeless legislation.

Anti-racism campaigners are adamant that the figures are "just the tip of the iceberg" and that many more instances of abuse occur than are actually reported.

Activists say that because some members of the ethnic minority community are in the North illegally, they are reluctant to contact the state when victimised or intimidated. Language and cultural barriers also act as a deterrent.

Patrick Yu, Director of the Six County-based Council for Ethnic Minorities, says racist attitudes are far more widespread and entrenched than might be assumed.

Yu points out that — in addition to cases reported to the Housing Executive — there are people in more vulnerable areas who suffer various forms of low-level intimidation daily.

"You need to be classified an A1 priority before you can get rehousing," explains Yu. "Most people find their own means to move to another area rather than go through the system. Low-level intimidation is much worse, it is the daily experience, and families try to stick it out."

The Housing Executive revelations came as hundreds of people took to the streets in Belfast in a public protest aimed at demanding an end to racism.

The rally, organised by the Anti-Racism Network in conjunction with the Trade Union Movement, came after a series of vicious racial attacks against members of the Chinese, Asian, African and Filipino communities.

There have also been ongoing attacks and incidents of intimidation against local nursing staff from ethnic backgrounds, many of whom live in the predominately unionist Village area, near Belfast City Hospital.

Speaking at a Royal College of Nursing event for internationally-recruited nurses this week, chief executive Martin Bradley said that racist attitudes to nurses are unacceptable.

"There is a small number of narrow-minded people determined to make life difficult for foreigners who are here to take the burden off our health service. Without these nurses, our hospitals and health care facilities would grind to a halt," he said.

Over 120 nurses attended the RCN event to discuss their experiences of racism in the Six Counties.

Maria Celestina — a nurse from the Philippines — began working in a nursing home in Randalstown six months ago and says that since then her life has changed for the worse. Although she is a fully qualified professional who has worked as a nurse all over the world, she says she has never before experienced such a lack respect from the public.

"I do not feel fully accepted by those who I work with or by the patients," says Celestina. "Relatives come in to visit and ask a nurse lower than me how the patient is for no other reason than because I am brown."

A spokesperson for the Belfast-based Anti-Racism Network (ARN) said the group was in the process of organising outside Belfast and is planning a series of upcoming events to highlight its anti-racism campaign.

"We have solicitors examining a host of issues," says ARN spokesperson Davy Carlin. "We're looking at current legislation and the manner in which the Housing Executive addresses ethnic minorities.

"We are also highlighting the criminalising of asylum-seekers by detaining them in prisons like Maghaberry and Magilligan."

The ARN was established last summer in response to negative public reaction after the local Islamic community announced its intention to build a mosque in Craigavon, County Armagh. The group now hopes to open additional branches in Derry and Dungannon, as well as Craigavon itself.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for both the PUP and UPRG continue to deny claims that recent racially motivated attacks in South Belfast are part of an orchestrated loyalist campaign.

The latest figures reveal that from April of last year to present, there were a total of 228 racially motivated crimes and a further 68 incidents with racist undercurrents. The attacks have continued and have become increasingly violent.


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