Over 100 Romanians were forced to flee their homes following days of racist attacks and spend the night sheltering in a church hall. The Romanian Embassy to the UK condemned the attacks.
Several British politicians and community leaders have been reacting to the racist attacks in Belfast which led Romanian families to flee their homes, condemning such xenophobic attitudes, according to BBC News. Prime Minister Gordon Brown voiced hope that the authorities “are able to take all the action necessary to protect them”, while Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness said a collective effort is needed “to face down these criminals in society who are quite clearly intent on preying on vulnerable women and children.” “We are going to do everything in our power to ensure these criminals, these racist criminals, don’t have their way,” he added.
UK Health Minister Michael McGimpsey joined condemnation of the attacks, saying he was appalled at the situation. “There is no place in Northern Ireland for this kind of racist violence and abuse. We value the contribution that people from all nationalities make to the life of Northern Ireland. Everyone who lives here deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
“I am very encouraged that so many of the neighbours and local community groups in south Belfast have rallied to support the families and show their disgust at such appalling acts of intimidation.”
Several other political leaders strongly condemned the racist attacks, saying that they serve only to tarnish the image of Northern Ireland right across the globe.
“The attacks over the past few days which have forced a number of Romanian families to leave their homes in south Belfast are a grim reflection of the persistence of racial prejudice within our society,” said Equality Commission member Evelyn Collins. “We have to assure members of minority ethnic communities here that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland are shocked by these racist attacks and that they have our support,” she added.
The Romanian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ion Jinga, was quoted by HotNews as saying that Romanian authorities are collaborating with British authorities to solve the problems of the Roma group of Romanians in Belfast. “The Romanian Embassy in London is firmly condemning any extremist actions. We contacted the British Foreign Office and voiced our concern and asked them to take necessary measures to avoid such situations being repeated,” he said. Jinga added that the embassy is in permanent contact with Belfast authorities – the police, local council, and with local Romanian organizations and the church involved in the incident.
A representative of the embassy’s consular office was scheduled to go to Belfast later yesterday and meet the Romanian families affected by the incident. “It is absolutely regrettable that such an attack happened against Romanian citizens. The Romanian community in Great Britain is very well integrated,” Jinga added. The Romanian families were forced to flee their homes following days of racist attacks in Belfast and spend the night sheltering in a church hall, according to Reuters. Gangs of men smashed windows and broke the doors of houses occupied by over 100 Romanians, including a newborn baby girl, in south Belfast. They were also threatened at gun point. “I have no intention of staying in Northern Ireland. I want to pack up and go back to Romania,” Maria, one of the victims, told reporters. She declined to give her last name but said she was acting as a spokeswoman for the group. “It has gone on for two weeks. I haven’t had a week’s sleep. It is unbelievable what has happened,” she said. Police assisted several organisations in relocating the families to the Protestant City Church Hall on Tuesday and they were moved to a leisure centre in the south of the city on Wednesday morning where the local community donated blankets, nappies, towels, food and milk. “All they want to do is return to Romania, that sends out a very negative message about Northern Ireland,” Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP junior minister in Northern Ireland’s power sharing executive, told reporters. “Just as sectarianism in the past has been responsible for violence and division, we cannot allow racism to become the new sectarianism. We want to leave that behind us.”
Sectarian violence between pro-British Protestants and pro-Irish Catholics has been a feature of life in the British-controlled province of Northern Ireland for decades, but crime against immigrants from Eastern Europe has been rising.