Over 100 men, women and children were this morning taken to the Ozone complex in Belfast after they spent the night in a church hall following sustained attacks by a racist mob claiming to be from the fascist group Combat 18
The families, who took refuge in a church hall, said they are too frightened to return to their homes in south Belfast, with some just wanting to return to Romania as soon as possible.
More than 100 Romanian people, including a new born baby, were this morning bussed from the City Church hall on University Avenue where they spent the night, to the Ozone complex in Belfast while the city council, police and social services meet to discuss the situation.
The families said they left their homes because they had come under sustained attack for a number of nights. A crowd gathered outside their homes shouting racist slogans, smashing windows and kicking in doors.
“These people came here to Northern Ireland because they want to make a better life but now they have to go. They are very afraid and the only thing to do is go back to Romania,” a friend of the families said.
Couaccu Siluis who spent the night in the church hall with his wife, family, brother and his family said he came to Northern Ireland eight months ago in search of a better life but found it impossible to get work.
In broken English he told the Belfast Telegraph he was too frightened to return to their home at Wellesley Avenue but had no money to return to Romania.
“We are not going back to our house. It is not safe. They made signs like they wanted to cut my brother's baby's throat. They said they wanted to kill us,” he said.
“We are very scared. We have young children. We cannot go back. Possibly we could go back to Romania but we have no money. We have to stay here.
“I don't know what we will do now. We will stay here for a couple more days but I don't know after that.”
Another victim said: “I am making plans to go back to Romania as soon as I can. We don’t want to go but it is too dangerous for us.”
Trish Morgan whose husband Malcolm is the pastor at City Church said: “We were asked by members of our church who are involved in race relations if we could offer emergency shelter for these people who have nowhere else to go.
“Police had advised that it was too dangerous and so tense and volatile that they had to be evacuated. Fortunately we were having a clean up in our church last night so we were able to ask members about the possibility of providing shelter.
“This morning they are being taken to another shelter, the Ozone Centre, where they will spend the day and the various organisations will go there to meet the community leaders and see about the possibility of re-housing these people because they can't return to their homes and some of them have said they don't want to return to their old homes.”
Nobody has been arrested in connection with the racist attacks.
Some residents have accused the police of failing to protect the immigrant families, but the PSNI said it will be stepping up patrols.
Belfast Lord Mayor Naomi Long, who visited the families last night, said said: “These kind of ugly scenes are totally unacceptable. A small minority of people have sadly taken away from an event which had been organised by the local community to show solidarity for their Romanian neighbours, and to express their abhorrence at their homes being subjected to racist attacks.
“Belfast is growing rich in diversity with people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds making this city their home, and each and every citizen has the right to live free from fear and intimidation. We cannot let a small minority of people detract from that, or allow them to drive people from their homes.”
Bernie Kelly, of Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said: “The whole thing escalated very quickly. Working with the police and all the agencies together we are going to have to find a resolution.”
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