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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 12:39 GMT
Race hate on rise in NI
With a racist attack in Northern Ireland almost every day, it has been dubbed the race-hate capital of Europe in some quarters.

Some claim racism is replacing sectarianism in the province's post-Troubles society, with loyalist paramilitaries blamed for an upsurge of attacks in Belfast.

But there has been a long history of links between extreme right-wing groups based in England and loyalists in Northern Ireland, particularly the largest organisation, the Ulster Defence Association.

Ethnic minority groups have borne the brunt of attacks
Ethnic minority groups have borne the brunt of attacks

Police statistics show 226 reported incidents of racism in the province in the 12 months up to March 2003. These include graffiti, verbal abuse and attacks.

But 212 incidents took place in just nine months between April and December last year.

Police patrols have been stepped up in south Belfast where Chinese and Pakistani families, including pregnant women, have borne the brunt of recent attacks.

However, Filipino nurses have also been targeted in Belfast and County Antrim and Muslim families have fled after attacks in County Armagh, where plans for the province's first mosque have been put on hold.

The police will not say who they think are behind racist attacks but stress that the community must help combat such activity.

"Incidents of a racial nature are a priority," said Inspector Robin Dempsey.

"Specially trained minority liaison officers work with victims and representatives of minority groups across Northern Ireland to address the problems and provide advice and support."

David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, has denied that terror group was behind racist attacks.

However, Davy Carlin of the Anti-Racism Network, which was set up five months ago to try to end the attacks, said loyalist elements were to blame.

"Whether or not these attacks are sanctioned by the UDA or UVF is not the issue, although the leaderships are turning a blind eye at the very least," he said.

He said right-wing groups such as the British National Party and Combat 18 were distributing leaflets in loyalist areas of Belfast, "trying to infiltrate the UDA", whilst the White Nationalist Group was targeting the Craigavon area of County Armagh.

"They go into loyalist working class areas where they are socially and economically deprived and blame the social problems on immigrants and minority ethnic groups," he said.

The UVF has denied the attacks
The UVF has denied the attacks
The BNP has had a more visible presence in the province recently and plans to field at least five candidates in the 2005 council elections.

Its leader, Nick Griffin, visited the loyalist heartland of east Belfast last month to outline its plans to expand in the province "as part of a campaign to try to halt a mass influx of immigrants".

There has been no indication that attacks have taken place in republican areas.

Last week, leading Sinn Fein spokesman Alex Maskey warned that someone would be killed if the intimidation did not stop.

Three years ago, one of the most comprehensive studies into racial prejudice in the province indicated racism was twice as common as sectarianism.

The University of Ulster interviewed 1,250 people and found "significant levels" of racism and anti-traveller prejudice.

Two-thirds said they would not work with members of the travelling community, more than half would not accept travellers as neighbours and more than a third said they would not like to work with Asian, Afro-Caribbean or Chinese people.

A BBC investigation last October found that ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland were more than twice as likely to face a racist incident than those in England or Wales.

Proposals for draft legislation on sectarianism and racism, which could mean tougher sentences for people convicted of so-called hate crimes, are to be announced soon.

A six foot plank shattered a window in the house
A plank was hurled through the window of a Chinese family's home

But the health union, Unison, has called for such laws to be fast-tracked in the wake of alleged attacks on Filipino nurses in south Belfast.

A meeting is planned later this week to discuss the situation, days after a young nurse claimed she was chased by youths who hurled racial abuse at her.

Pamela Dooley from Unison said: "The situation described by our members is frightening and on the increase.

"The workers have come here, at the request of the UK Government to provide much needed health care to our citizens."

Chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) Seamus McAleavey said there was evidence that many attacks were planned and co-ordinated.

Those who carry out these appalling acts believe they act with sound reason
Dr Gordon Gray
Presbyterian Church
"The government, police service, housing executive and other agencies need to give the protection of ethnic minorities and the arrest of racist thugs top priority," he said.

Patrick Yu of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities said the recent spate of attacks could be the tip of the iceberg.

"A lot of cases are not reported to the police for one reason or another, in particular they are more vulnerable to reprisal if they report them to the police," he said.

"We need to educate people about the multi-culturalism now in Northern Ireland. We have more than two communities."

In response to the attacks, the Anti-Racism Network, which includes representatives of 25 organisations from cultures as diverse as African, Chinese and Muslim, is organising a rally on 27 January at Belfast City Hall.

It is hoped that the Loyalist Commission - set up to provide political analysis for loyalist paramilitary groups and includes unionist and loyalist politicians and Protestant clergymen - can be persuaded to help stop the attacks.

The Presbyterian Church's spokesman on Race Relations said it would be a mistake to regard the perpetrators of such attacks as "mindless thugs".

Dr Gordon Gray said: "Sadly and alarmingly, those who carry out these appalling acts believe they act with sound reason."

The Equality Commission has urged people to face up to the threat posed by racial prejudice and the "malevolent minority" who are engaged in racial crime.

However, contrary to what the statistics would suggest, attitudes towards ethnic communities are not all negative.

Perhaps this is typified by a newspaper in Dungannon which has begun a regular column in Portuguese and English to help the 1,500 Portuguese people who live and work in the area.

Ian Greer, editor of the Tyrone Courier, said he wanted to help the migrant community feel involved in the life of the town.

"The Portuguese are now a sizeable group that has come along in the past four to five years and is an important part of life in Dungannon," he said.




SEE ALSO:
Racist attack was 'hate crime'
08 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland
NI 'needs anti-racism forum'
10 Dec 02  |  Northern Ireland
Pregnant women in 'racial attack'
21 Dec 03  |  Northern Ireland
Ignorance blamed for 'racial attack'
22 Dec 03  |  Northern Ireland
NI 'needs to tackle racism'
21 Mar 03  |  Northern Ireland


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