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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
Men flee after racist attack
Coolfin Street
The firework was found at the back of a house
Three African men have fled their home in south Belfast after a racist attack.

Army bomb experts were called after a suspicious object was discovered at the rear of a house in Coolfin Street shortly after 0730 BST on Friday.

It was found to be a firework.

Three Nigerian men have lived at the terraced house for about two years, but they say they will now leave the area.

A number of families were evacuated from their homes during the security operation.

The incident comes against a backdrop of concern over recent racist attacks in the city.

'Traumatic'

A friend of the men, Godwin Ajisafe, told BBC Radio Ulster that it had been a traumatic experience.

"It is disgraceful - we don't really know why this happened," he said.

"I used to live in the area, and it is depressing every time things like this happen.

"We try to communicate with people, to ask them 'why?'"

Former Belfast Lord Mayor Alex Maskey called for unionist political and community leaders in the area to intensify their efforts to end the attacks.

The Sinn Fein South Belfast MLA said: "They must end the platitudes about being anti-racist and get down to the work of ensuring racist attacks are ended, and ended for good."

'Vulnerable'

Local Ulster Unionist councillor Bob Stoker said the community "needed to stand up for all vulnerable people in our society".

He added: "The sooner they start responding to these attacks, the more likely it is they will stop."

Earlier on Friday, the police rejected claims that they were failing to take attacks on ethnic minorities seriously in Northern Ireland.

The Anti-Racism Network questioned the commitment of the police to tackling racist crime and also criticised the Housing Executive.

Mohammad Hossain: House has been attacked 20 times
The row followed a petrol bomb attack in south Belfast on the home of a Bangladeshi family as they slept early on Thursday.

Mohammad Hossain, his wife and their five-year-old daughter escaped injury when two petrol bombs were thrown at their house in Fane Street, off the Lisburn Road.

Mr Hossain says he has been attacked about 20 times before.

Barbara Muldoon of the Anti-Racism Network said Mr Hossain had told the authorities that the attacks were getting worse.

"We know from previous events in Northern Ireland that people in similar situations from the indigenous community get housed very quickly in the Hilton, and find that the police work quickly to find the perpetrators of attacks," she told BBC Radio Ulster on Friday.

Chief Inspector Nigel Grimshaw denied that the PSNI had been dragging their heels in dealing with racist attacks.

"The process of justice and of investigation can be lengthy, and at times, the public maybe feels that this does not move as quickly as they would like," he said.

Mr Hossain, who has lived in Belfast for 11 years, said he did not understand why his family was being attacked.

According to police statistics, between April 2002 and 2003 there were 226 racial incidents, resulting in five prosecutions.

These figures include attacks on homes and physical assaults.

They also record cases of verbal abuse, which currently cannot be prosecuted as a crime.

Between 2003 and April this year, there were 453 attacks - an increase of 100%.

There have been just eight prosecutions, with two further prosecutions pending.

And in the last four months alone, 149 racist attacks have been reported and just one prosecution.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Maggie Swarbrick reports
"Now it is racial rather than sectarian tension forcing people out of their homes"



SEE ALSO:
Racial motive probed in attack
22 Jul 04  |  Northern Ireland
Talks over feud violence
28 May 04  |  Northern Ireland
Racist attacks condemned
18 Jun 04  |  Northern Ireland
Race hate on rise in NI
13 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland


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