23 April 2009 Edition
South Belfast urged: 'Unite against hate crime'
BY LAURA FREIL
POLITICIANS and community leaders in south Belfast have been urged by Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey to unite in support of foreign nationals who live in the area in the wake of an upsurge of hate crimes. “Political and community representatives have a duty to make it clear that racism has no place in this community,” said Maskey.
It is clear that such racist attacks and attitudes do not have the support of the majority of people in the Village area
– Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey
The South Belfast MLA was speaking after an attack by a racist mob from the loyalist Village area of south Belfast last Thursday. Five people, including four from Hungary, were in a house on Donegall Road when a gang attacked the property.
The women in the house barricaded themselves in behind a kitchen table after a mob broke windows and tried to smash their way through the front door. The mob shouted abuse and threatened to kill the residents if they didn’t leave the area.
“We were crying and screaming and they were yelling they were going to kill us” said one woman. “It was terrible. None of us can go back to Donegall Road.”
Last month, the homes of Eastern European workers and their families were targeted by a racist mob in south Belfast. The attacks took place after loyalists targeted homes following an unrelated confrontation between rival soccer fans from Poland and those supporting the local team during a European qualifying match at Belfast’s Windsor Park.
Over 40 foreign nationals were forced to flee from their homes. Slovenian, Hungarian, Lithuanian and Polish families were attacked as a racist gang rampaged through the area.
Windows were smashed, front doors kicked in and homes were pelted with stones and bricks. The assailants yelled abuse, including death threats.
Eastern European families have also been targeted by racists in Ballymena.
A house where a group of Polish people were staying was attacked on Easter Monday. The attack took place just before 2pm when stones were thrown, smashing six windows in the house.
“There have been attempts to link these attacks to the trouble before and after the Poland v Northern Ireland soccer match,” Alex Maskey said. “This is a smokescreen being used by the narrow-minded thugs who engage in racist attacks.
“The whole Polish community and the wider community of foreign nationals cannot be held responsible for the actions of a small minority of football hooligans.
“Let us be clear: these types of racist incidents were taking place for years before this soccer game. They were wrong then and they are wrong now,” said the Sinn Féin Assembly member.
This is not the first time loyalists in south Belfast have engaged in racist attacks.
In 2004, a series of racist incidents led to the formation of a Roundtable on Racism.
A Romanian family and two Chinese families were forced to flee. People from the 26 Counties were also targeted
The move followed repeated attacks on the Village and Donegall Road area picking out Asian and Chinese families. In one incident, a Pakistani family were forced to leave only hours after moving into the neighbourhood.
Other homes were subjected to arson attacks, resulting in a Romanian family and two Chinese families being forced to flee. People from the 26 Counties were also targeted.
Racist slogans were painted on walls and loyalists held a mass rally in an attempt to intimidate people into leaving the area. But Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey has pointed out that such actions are not supported by the majority of local people.
“There have been increasing reports of racist attacks and intimidation directed at foreign nationals. Within south Belfast, much of the media reports have focused on the Village area,” said Maskey.
“I have spoken to a number of people from the Village area and it is clear that such racist attacks and attitudes do not have the support of the majority of people in this area. Those responsible for racist intimidation are a very small minority, a minority whose actions are abhorred by the local community,” said Maskey.
These types of racist incidents were taking place for years before the match with Poland. They were wrong then and they are wrong now
Meanwhile, funding to support the integration of ethnic communities has been announced.
Stormont Junior Ministers Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin) and Jeffery Donaldson (DUP) said funding of around a million pounds is to be made available to support organisations representing ethnic minorities.
Those to benefit include Belfast Islamic Centre, Polish Association, Derry Traveller Support Association, Ballymena Inter Ethnic Forum, Chinese Welfare Association, South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, St Patrick’s Conference, and St Vincent de Paul Society.