Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 17:56 UK

Roma's exit 'more than racism'

The families left Northern Ireland last month
The families left Northern Ireland last month

A senior Housing Executive official has said the recent departure of members of the Roma community from Belfast may have been linked to more than racism.

Michael Graham played a key role in facilitating the return of more than 100 immigrants to Romania.

Mr Graham said he believes had they been entitled to public funds, their decision to leave may have been different.

However, the NI Council for Ethnic Minorities said it disagreed with this.

"We believe one of the main reasons they left is because they feared for their safety," spokesperson Jolena Flett said.

Housing Executive funds were used to fly the families home last month.

"Racism was certainly the catalyst by which the people finally determined that they wanted to go home," Mr Graham said.

"But, I still believe that, had these people been entitled to public funds, which unfortunately they weren't, their decision may have been different."

Anti-Racism Network spokeswoman Barbara Muldoon said Mr Graham's comments were irresponsible.

"One of the myths that has stoked up racism and racist attacks on migrants has been the fallacy that they are in a country to claim state benefits," she said.

"This myth has been exposed time and time again, and for anyone in a senior public position to raise this myth when attention needs to be focused on racism itself is irresponsible."



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