Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fleeing Romanians are rehoused

More than 100 Romanian people living in Belfast have been moved to temporary accommodation after a spate of racist attacks in the south of the city.

Twenty families stayed in a church hall on Tuesday night after leaving their homes.

There will be a police presence at the temporary accommodation.

The Romanian Consul General arrived in Belfast on Wednesday night. He will meet NI Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie on Thursday.

Ms Ritchie said on Wednesday that the families could stay in the temporary accommodation for at least a week.

Police do not believe paramilitaries were involved in the attacks.

Numerous politicians have condemned the attacks, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Maria Fechete said she and the other people caught up in the violence had "had enough".

"I haven't slept in a week - we've just had enough," she said.

Another Romanian woman, who did not want to be named, said she feared the attackers had come to kill her and her family, and she now wanted to go back to Romania.

Margaret Ritchie said the Housing Executive would talk to those people who had been rehoused about "their choices and their options over the next week".

Most of the Romanian families, who are members of the Roma ethnic group, spent Wednesday at the Ozone Leisure Centre in south Belfast, after being taken there from the church hall.

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

Police responded to claims that they should have acted more quickly.

Superintendent Chris Noble said everyone could have done more.

"There are people out there who know who was involved in the initial attacks," he said.

'Deplorable'

The prime minister said he hoped the authorities would take all action necessary to protect the families.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson described the attacks as "deplorable".

The DUP leader added that Romanians had assisted the economy and deserved to have the respect of the local community.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the attacks were a "totally shameful episode."

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

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."

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.

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