Another attack spells out dire need to uproot racism in Northern Ireland

Indian family targeted by ‘terror attacks’ 29 June 2009: The need for weeding out deep rooted racism in Northern Ireland has become all the more dire and well pronounced, with reports that Belfast racists also targeted an Indian family during the "terror attacks".

According to the reports, racist forces allegedly attacked the Indian Community Centre in the city of Belfast, and the Romanian gypsies, almost simultaneously. The BBC said the centre’s priest and his family were planning to move out after the June 15 attacks, which they believe was racially motivated.

Reports said a gang of youths tried to break down the door of the Indian Community Centre, while the priest’s wife was alone inside, in an act of violence and intimidation akin to the attacks on Romanians.

The BBC said the gang also threw stones at the building and tried to take grills off the windows to get inside.

The family claimed they were too afraid to speak publicly about the incident at the time.

Bidit Dey, who works at the centre, said police did not make any contact with the priest’s wife after the attack.

"They did not actually stop by or call in to see her. This would have reassured them," he said.

The authorities, however, maintained the Northern Ireland police have beefed up the security at the Centre in North Belfast. Though the family said they are frightened after the attack, they have decided to stay back following assurances from the police.

A police spokeswoman said a police unit patrolled the area in response to the reports of the attack, but did not enter the building itself The priest, who lives with his wife and two children in the Centre, said at one stage they were planning to leave the area.

The attacks have only confirmed racism continues. Even as the police have initiated action against those involved in “hate campaign” and racist attacks on Romanians, it is now clear the problem is too deep rooted to be easily plucked out.

It is also evident that the discontentment has been simmering since long. In a September 2008 survey published just recently, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has found the “Northern Ireland’s population was becoming more prejudiced against people of different races and sexual orientations”.

It has also emerged even though religious divisions are less prevalent, they remain a problem. The survey also showed rising prejudice against gays, lesbians and bisexuals and widespread resentment of migrant workers, along with the mentally ill.

For reaching the conclusion, Social and Market Research, which conducted the survey, interviewed 1,071 people, aged 16 and over.

The Commission, which published the survey, joined political leaders last week in condemning what the “racist attacks” that persuaded 100 Romanians to flee the province.

Most of the Romanian citizens attacked last week were members of the Roma or Gypsy ethnic group, whose members face similar discrimination across the European continent, especially in the east.

Many members of the “traveler” minority live in caravans around the island of Ireland and face problems of integration at schools and workplaces.

Just over half of those questioned in the survey said they would mind having a “traveler” as a neighbour. This was 10 percentage points more than the figures emerging in the previous poll in 2005.

The report comes at a time when alarm at rising crime against immigrants from Eastern Europe is being expressed by the politicians in Northern Ireland, which was scarred by decades of violence between Protestants and Catholics until the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

Reacting to the developments, Chief Commissioner Bob Collins said in a statement they were conscious negative views covering a range of grounds including race, disability, and sexual orientation were on the rise.

He added the prejudice on religious grounds stayed at a level similar to the one three years ago and attitudes were not as negative as in other areas. Only six percent of respondents said they would mind living next door to an adherent of a different religion.

Collins asserted it was indeed a consolation so few people expressed such attitudes, but it could not be assumed that the question of sectarianism was no longer an issue.

"We know that the contrary is true. We know, too, that patterns of behaviour from one context can be transferred to another," he asserted.

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