A senior Housing Executive official has said the recent departure of members of the Roma community from Belfast was 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 believed one of their key reasons for returning home was because they realised they were not entitled to any benefits in NI.
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."More than 70 members of the Roma community who fled their homes in Belfast after racist attacks travelled back to Romania on Friday.
About 25 people, mainly women and children, had already left despite attempts to persuade them to stay.Emergency funds provided by the Housing Executive are being used to pay for the flights.Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said it was a "sad day" for Northern Ireland."It is a symbol of the sectarianism that still divides us and it is a marker that the only way forward is a shared future," he said."I am very disappointed that all but two of the Romanians have chosen to leave."She said she was looking at how her department could help in countering racist attitudes in the community."My thoughts are very much with the Romanians as they leave Northern Ireland today," she added."My drive is building the shared future that they and other migrant workers can live securely and happily in."Earlier this week, the police said they did not know enough about the concerns of the families who fled.
Police do not believe paramilitaries were involved in last week's attacks, which were condemned by all political parties.Barbara Muldoon of Anti-Racism Network accused the police of being slow to act.