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Racist attacks in South Belfast force Romanian families to seek shelter

Romanian Embassy praises prompt action of authoritiesand the shelter and assistance provided to the victims

17 June 2009. Fearing the worst, 115 Romanians have fled their homes in south Belfast on Tuesday, after yet another Romanian family was targeted in the latest episode of a series of racist attacks.

The group of about 20 families, including a five-day-old baby girl, first sought shelter in a single house, but eventually accepted the offer to take refuge for the night in the hall of a near-by church.

The group has been transferred by the police this morning for temporary shelter to the Ozone Leisure Centre, where they will spend the rest of the day. Most said they did not want to return to their Belfast homes.

The attacks were condemned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said he hoped the authorities would take all action necessary to protect the families.

The Embassy of Romania has on its part praised the British authorities for their prompt intervention and the emergency shelter and assistance provided to the victims, trusting that all measures will be taken to ensure that cases like this will not happen again.

In the area of the attack there currently live 200 Romanian citizens of Roma origin.

The attacks have been going on for several nights and culminated yesterday, when two houses on Belgravia and Wellesley avenues were assaulted with bricks and stones, the windows smashed and pregnant women and children reported to have been threatened verbally with rifles.

Those involved in the heinous act allegedly shouted “Combat 18 slogans”, while a letter containing text from Hitler’s Mein Kampf was also pushed through the letterbox of one of the properties.

There seem to have been only minor injuries, but fear of greater violence has brought 115 Romanians to flee the area that very night, finding refuge in a church; several have already requested to be repatriated.

The attacks do not seem to have been deliberately aimed against Romanian citizens: all migrants residing in the south Belfast-Ballymena area have been in fact under target in the last few months by a group of extremists.

The trouble began after a World Cup qualifier match between Northern Ireland and Poland at Windsor Park in March sparked violence against Polish citizens. A string of attacks prompted 50 Polish people to leave the area in the following days.

Other migrants of different origin, among which 4 Hungarian women, were targeted in the following weeks: around 1000 attacks were reported in two months.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who has met with the families, said the attacks were a ‘totally shameful episode’.

"We need a collective effort to face down this criminals in society who are quite clearly intent on preying on vulnerable women and children," he said.

The police have met Belfast City Council and social services to discuss how best to care for those affected by the attacks.

Lord Mayor Naomi Long said she did not want to see families "driven from Belfast".

"They have a right to be in Belfast. They are part of the fabric of this city. I want to see them treated with the respect and dignity that I would demand for any other citizen," she said.

Jolena Flett, Racial Harassment Adviser for the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, said, "There has been an issue about the families feeling unsafe in the properties they were attacked in. What we are trying to do is provide them with alternative accommodation."

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