Page last updated at 12:37 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 13:37 UK

PM condemns Romanian hate attacks

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About 20 families gathered outside one house, hoping for safety in numbers

More than 100 Romanian people who fled their homes in south Belfast have been moved to a leisure centre.

The group of about 20 families spent Tuesday night in a church hall after a spate of racist attacks on their homes.

Police have said they do not believe paramilitaries were involved in orchestrating the attacks.

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

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

A Romanian woman covers her head as she arrives at a Belfast leisure centre
A Romanian woman covers her head as she arrives at a Belfast leisure centre

"We need a collective effort to face down these 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.

Most of the Romanian families, including one with a five-day-old girl, have been taken to the Ozone Leisure Centre in south Belfast, where they will spend the rest of the day.

They said they did not want to return to their Belfast homes.

Mr McGuinness and Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson visited the centre earlier on Wednesday.

Mr Donaldson said it was important people in Northern Ireland stood together.

He said: "I think it is important that the whole community shows a united front against this kind of racism."

AT THE SCENE
mark simpson
Mark Simpson, BBC News

Looking at 115 Romanians huddled together on the floor of a Belfast church hall, it was possible to see the worst side of Northern Ireland - and the best - all at once.

The speed with which Pastor Malcolm Morgan and his team created a temporary home for 20 families was remarkable.

At the same time, the sight of men, women and children looking so helpless and scared was a stain on Northern Ireland's international reputation.

Many of the families came to Belfast believing that the years of prejudice and narrow-mindedness were over. However, it seems that in some parts of the city, racism is the new sectarianism.

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.

"This is a small number of people who are engaged in this violence. I understand this is cold comfort to the people affected by it."

Bernie Kelly, from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said it had been a very traumatic experience for the Romanians.

"The whole thing has escalated very quickly," she said.

"Working with the police and all the agencies together we are going to have to find a resolution."

There have been suspicions that a loyalist paramilitary group is involved in the violence, but this has been denied, our correspondent added.

One of the women who took shelter in the church, who did not want to be named, said she was very upset and scared.

She said she had feared the attackers had come to kill her and her family, and she now wanted to go back to Romania.

But the help of the church had shown a positive side to the people of Belfast as well, she added.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

On Tuesday night, the group of 115 people had tried to take refuge in a single house, but was eventually taken to the church by police minibus.

Unsafe

Anna Lo of the Alliance Party said the families were "very frightened".

Ms Lo said attacks on Romanian homes - which included bricks being thrown through windows - had been increasing in frequency in recent months.

"They are really very frightened," she said. "The women, when they were talking to me yesterday, they were really upset, tears in their eyes and said, 'You know we love it here, we'd like to live here, but we're too scared.'

"A woman showed me her shoulder which was quite bruised and cut across, she was hit across the shoulder."

Jolena Flett, Racial Harassment Adviser for the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, said they had been threatened verbally and then three properties were attacked on the same day.

"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," she said.



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Racist attacks timeline
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16 Jun 09 |  Northern Ireland
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15 Jun 09 |  Northern Ireland


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