Ulster race violence condemned

Thugs who target migrants in Northern Ireland for racist attack are guilty of ethnic cleansing, a community worker said today.

Large parts of south Belfast are in danger of becoming no-go areas after 20 Romanian families were forced to spend the night at a church hall, Patrick Yu added.

Bricks have been thrown through windows in the Protestant working-class Village area with increasing frequency in recent weeks.

Poles were forced to flee when violence flared at a Northern Ireland and Poland football game. And Chinese in Belfast, some with local ties going back generations, have also been targeted.

Mr Yu, executive director of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities. said: "At the end of the day it is all about the territory issue, if you look at any type of ethnic tension.

"We know this is their agenda, ethnic cleansing of all minorities out of the Village and the surrounding area."

There were 771 racist crimes last year, fewer than the number of sectarian incidents but on the increase. Most involved criminal damage or assaults, not on the scale of Bosnia or Rwanda but disturbing nonetheless.

Areas like the Village have a high density of low-cost housing so are attractive for migrants.

Some Romanians have been known to beg, which can jar with the local population. However there are also some indigenous people who beg.

Belfast has been dubbed the race hate capital of Europe. But academic Peter Shirlow said this was misleading.

Migrants have also been targeted in places like Italy, with the authorities there launching a controversial campaign to register the central and eastern European Roma people by taking their fingerprints.

There was a stand-off earlier this year when Italian authorities returned refugees to Libya.

Paris too saw riots involving marginalised north African migrants several years ago who suffered from unemployment and diminished prospects.

Dr Shirlow, of the school of law at Queen's University Belfast, said the causes of Northern Ireland's brand of hate crime were linked to ordinary criminality.

"It seems to be coming from disaffected youths engaging in a pattern of anti-social behaviour," he said.

"When they engage in racist behaviour the people are more frightened by it as they already feel vulnerable."

Police have said there is no evidence of an organised far right group like Combat 18 being behind the abuse. They have vowed to catch the perpetrators and appealed for members of the local community to come forward.

Mr Shirlow said officers were stretched by reductions in their numbers, which affected how much attention they could pay to the trouble.

Officers have stepped up patrols in the Village area. It is a region of close-knit terraced houses with kerbstones painted red, white and blue, reflecting old loyalties.

Yet there have been efforts to redevelop the narrow streets and community workers have done their best to make it more welcoming.

These efforts have been replicated across the province, with Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members who attacked Chinese people in south Belfast made to leave the organisation.

Mr Shirlow said former loyalist paramilitaries in Lisburn had targeted those behind racism in other parts of Northern Ireland. Efforts to stamp out similar abuse of Portuguese and East Timorese in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Craigavon, Co Armagh, appear to have had an effect.

Mr Shirlow said: "We need some balance here. You used to have that at local football matches with the booing of black players and that has disappeared.

"We have second and third generation immigrants who feel much more comfortable living in Northern Ireland."

Yet south and east Belfast continue to top the tables for the number of racist incidents.

Mr Shirlow added: "It is a very significant problem and it is an issue not being dealt with adequately.

"If this violence succeeds in the Lisburn Road (the Village) area it tells others who believe in this if you do that you get rid of these people."

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