Attacked Romanians to go home


Up to 100 Romanians are to quit Northern Ireland after a series of racist attacks, it was revealed today.

Twenty-five have already left and another 75 are planning to return home, Stormont minister Margaret Ritchie disclosed. Air fares are being paid out of an emergency fund.

Just 17 who were caught up in the violence in Belfast last week, when families were offered temporary accommodation, have decided to stay on.

Ms Ritchie, the minister for social development, said she deeply regretted the decision by the Romanians to leave.

She said: “We are not a racist society, but it’s now time we took a serious look at ourselves. There is now an urgency and an imperative to build a shared society.

“We live apart. We are educated apart, and therefore it is no surprise that this is a them and us attitude. We have to work to challenge that attitude. There must be total respect for political, religious and ethnic differences.”

Details of the evacuation emerged just hours after a church which offered sanctuary to the 100 Romanians when they fled their homes was attacked overnight.

The windows of City Church in University Avenue, south Belfast, were smashed by

Pastor Malcolm Morgan discovered the damage when he arrived this morning. He said: “I arrived at 7am and found several windows smashed at the front of our church and the main door windows smashed.

“There were stones lying scattered on the floor inside and outside and obviously broken glass all around.”

Mr Morgan said the church had never been attacked in such a way before but added that it was only speculation that it was connected to the help the church gave to the 22 Romanian families.

“It would be easy to conclude that it was someone who did not like our work with the Romanians, but that is only guesswork.

“If it is, I think that is very sad. We had nothing but positive comments all last week — so many emails and local folk thanking us — so it was quite a surprise this morning,” he said.

He said he did not regret what he had done for the migrant workers. “Absolutely not. I was just thrilled we, as a church, were able to respond last week and we would do the same tomorrow.”

The Romanians — 115 people, including 49 children — spent a night in the church hall before being found temporary accommodation in student homes left empty for the summer holidays.

They fled their homes after a series of racist attacks.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said they were investigating the attack on the church and appealed for information.

A number of items were taken away for examination, said a spokeswoman, who said a motive was being investigated.

Meanwhile, a 21-year-old man was due to appear in court later today charged with intimidating Romanians.

The suspect is also accused of provocative behaviour during disturbances earlier this month which saw the migrants flee their homes in south Belfast

Politicians have appealed for unity and the Romanian ambassador visited Belfast last week in a sign of solidarity with the displaced.