Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 14:13 UK

Racism in Northern Ireland

Families flee their homes in fear of further attacks
Families flee their homes in fear of further attacks

More than 100 Romanian people have fled their homes in Belfast, saying they feel intimidated after a series of attacks. BBC News examines the problem of racism in Northern Ireland.

When the police in Northern Ireland started recording racially motivated crime in 1996 there were just 41 incidents.

Last year there were nearly 1,000.

In part the increase in the number of incidents can be explained by the increase in the ethnic minority population.

There was a growth in the number of migrants coming to Northern Ireland following the paramilitary ceasefires and the accession of central and eastern European countries to the European Union.

Northern Ireland's established Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese communities were joined by thousands more ethnic minorities from across the world.

However there is also the suggestion that a legacy of Northern Ireland's sectarian conflict is a "culture of intolerance" that leads to violence against people not just of a different religion but also those of a different ethnic background.

Neil Jarman from the Institute for Conflict Research in Belfast has conducted several studies of racism in Northern Ireland.


He said that alongside what might be called "standard racism" there is also the legacy of sectarianism which has created a sub-culture where "anyone slightly different becomes a target for intimidation."

Dr Jarman said he understood that the Romanians who had been targeted are ethnic Roma - a people who have faced discrimination across Europe.

Neil Jarman
Dr Jarman does not believe paramilitaries are involved

"They are an easily picked upon group, they are not well defended, they do not have political representation," he said.

The group had been living in south Belfast - the part of Northern Ireland which had the highest number of reported racist incidents last year - 169.

It also contains the Village - a working class loyalist area which has seen migrants moving in, attracted by cheap housing.

There have been persistent attacks on the newcomers.

In April Hungarians, Lithuanians and Slovakians and Poles said they were intimidated out of the area.

That followed clashes between Poland and Northern Ireland football fans on the day of a World Cup qualifier.

In the past loyalist paramilitary groups have been blamed for orchestrating racist attacks.

Dr Jarman said that while an element of loyalism has associations with neo-Nazis he did not believe that paramilitaries have been involved in the latest attacks.

Some media reports have gone as far as branding Belfast the race hate capital of Europe.

But another academic Peter Shirlow, from the School of Law at Queens University in Belfast, said this was misleading.

Dr Shirlow said: "We need some balance here. You used to have at local football matches 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."

However he said more needs to be done.

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

"If this violence succeeds in the Lisburn Road area it tells others: 'If you do that you get rid of these people.'"

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