News24

Families flee racist attacks

2009-06-17 13:01

Belfast - Over 100 Romanians living in Northern Ireland were forced to seek refuge in a church hall after fleeing racist attacks - and now many say they want to leave the country altogether.

The families, including one with a five-day-old baby girl, spent Tuesday night in the makeshift shelter in Belfast after an attack on an anti-racism rally on Monday at which youths made Nazi salutes and threw bottles.

On Wednesday, they were moved to a nearby leisure centre amid fears of further attacks.

"Trouble was brewing for a few days," Pastor Malcolm Morgan, whose church gave the families refuge, told ITV television. "There have been stones thrown and windows smashed. It is a small group of racist thugs."

Some of the Romanians are now packing up to return to their homeland.

"I just want to go home now," said one mother, who did not give her name. "I feel very bad because I don't have a home now, I have a baby and it's not nice. I don't feel good here anymore."

Police were called in to help volunteer organisations move the families into the church hall. The violence has been strongly condemned by local politicians.

"These kind of ugly scenes are totally unacceptable," said Belfast Lord Mayor Naomi Long.

"A small minority of people have sadly taken away from an event which had been organised by the local community to show solidarity for their Romanian neighbours, and to express their abhorrence at their homes being subjected to racist attacks."

There have been racial tensions in the area ever since trouble broke out in the build-up to Northern Ireland's 3-2 win over Poland in the 2010 World Cup qualifier in the city at the end of March.

Any Romanian national can come and work in Britain since both countries are European Union member states, although they have to sign up to a worker registration scheme.

Romania was one of the most recent countries to join the EU in 2007.