Stark reality of everyday racism revealed in Sligo service reports
Victims urged to break silence and speak out on racist incidents
Sligo’s racist incident reporting and support service, a multi-agency project launched last June, is receiving reports at a rate of 10 a month.
A woman enters a busy shop, asks for the footwear department, and spots a staff member signalling to a colleague to follow her. She is looking at running shoes when she is approached and told that if she is not buying anything, she should leave.
The woman, a medical professional, buys six pairs of running shoes, leaves them on the counter, and tells the sales assistant who has been shadowing her to give them to charity.
In the same town a mother with two small children stands in a queue in the office of a Government agency. When her baby starts to cry the person behind the counter tells her to take her children outside.
Other children are happily running around the office, without apparently annoying anyone, and it is raining and cold out. But the humiliated woman feels she has no option but to step outside.
A Dublin-born third-level student answers a room-for- rent ad and is told on the phone that the room is still available and she should come and see it. When the landlady answers the door she insists that there is no room and that there had been no phone call. The student hits the redial button and the phone in the landlady’s hand rings.
The student with the pronounced Dublin accent is black. So is the medic in need of a pair of running shoes. The mother standing in the rain with her crying baby is from a minority ethnic group.
Their experiences were recently reported to the racist incident reporting and support service launched by the Sligo Family Resource Centre last June.
In the first three months, 17 reports were received, but they are now coming in at rate of 10 a month. Co-ordinator Deo Ladislas Ndakengerwa believes that many people opt not to make any complaint.
“But we say if you do not break the silence you will continue to be a victim,” he stressed. “You cannot stay inside with the curtains drawn, telling your children they cannot play outside because the neighbours do not like them. What message is that for your children.”
Incidents reported range from random abuse on the street, such as spitting and name-calling, to negative treatment at service provision counters and alleged assaults.
The Garda has been notified about a sustained campaign against a family in one housing estate. However, Mr Ndakengerwa says mediation is the preferred option.
He is very concerned about reports of “institutional” abuse, for example the treatment of Kurdish people who arrived in Sligo almost a decade ago under the government resettlement programme and are Irish citizens.
“When they want to see community welfare officers [Department of Social Protection representatives], they are told to go to Globe House, the centre for asylum-seekers,” explained Mr Ndakengerwa .
“They were told ‘you are Irish on paper only’. These families feel they have integrated in the community but officials perceive them as asylum-seekers,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the department said this issue had not been raised with it. Customers wishing to attend its offices at Cranmore Road in Sligo could be accommodated “by advising the officer where they currently attend”, she added. Mr Ndakengerwa said this had been done on a number of occasions.
An online reporting service has been established as part of the project and anybody who witnesses a racist incident is encouraged to report online.
Mr Ndakengerwa, a native of Rwanda who has been in Ireland for 10 years, says the most upsetting thing for those who are verbally abused or intimidated is when bystanders look the other way.
The campaigner recalled being attacked while standing in a bus queue on Westmoreland Street in Dublin.
“A guy called me a ‘stupid nigger’ . He broke a bottle and threatened me and when I ran, some bystanders assumed I had robbed him.”
He says the support of the Garda in Sligo has restored people’s faith in the system. “They have been just fantastic – and most Sligo people are. There’s just a few who have an agenda or who are ill-informed.”
A multi-agency project, funded initially by the EU-supported Peace lll programme, the reporting service is set to run out of funds at the end of February. “We believe the Government should support services like this, they should be mainstream,” said Mr Ndakengerwa.