Driven out of homes in Belfast racist attacks

100 Romanians check out of Northern Ireland 24 June 2009: It is end of the road for about a 100 Romanians, compelled to leave their homes in South Belfast after a series of racist attacks. Even as the police questioned two more teenagers, the attacked Romanians packed their bags for quitting Northern Ireland altogether.

As per the available information, as many as 25 persons have already left the place. Another 75 are planning to travel out in the next few days. Just about 14 may eventually stay back in Belfast.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie, who made arrangements for their temporary housing, told Reuters: "I am very sad they have decided to go home. I always said it was a matter of personal choice and that breathing space of temporary accommodation allowed them to reflect on their circumstances.

"We are not a racist society but we have to work to build respect for political, religious and ethnic difference," Ritchie said, adding their flight would be funded from emergency government funds.

It now emerges the church hall which provided overnight shelter for the Romanian families last week has also witnessed smashed windows and a door broken, leading to outrage of sorts among the people.

Pastor Malcolm Morgan, after discovering the damage, said the church had never been attacked in such a way before. But, it was only a speculation the damage was connected to the help given to the 22 Romanian families.

He said it would be easy to conclude that someone not liking the work with the Romanians was behind the damage, but it was only guesswork. The pastor made it clear he did not regret what he had done for the Romanians and a few smashed windows was "a small price to pay".

Reports suggest three men aged around 20 were questioned about the attack, which was captured on CCTV, hours later at a house located a short distance from the City Church in south Belfast’s University Avenue.

Two were released by the police pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service. The third was released unconditionally.
So far, the police have charged three men, two teenagers included, regarding the intimidation of the Romanians. Besides this, two more teenagers have been arrested for provocative conduct and intimidation.

Aged 16 and 17, they were questioned about intimidation and provocative conduct after being detained in south Belfast. On Tuesday, they were released on bail pending further inquiries.
The attacks have also led to expression of alarm at rising crime against immigrants from Eastern Europe by the politicians in Northern Ireland, which was left scarred by violence between Protestants and Catholics until the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement,

Meanwhile, the 21-year-old man charged with intimidating Romanians last week appeared in a court in Belfast. Two boys, aged 15 and 16, too have put up an appearance in court on charges linked to the attacks.

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