Hate crime: Child's woolly hat lies amid the charred aftermath of a racist arson attack on family
Published 30/01/2014 | 11:30
A young child's woolly bobble hat lies poignantly on a toddler's car seat in the blackened aftermath of a racist arson attack.
It was one of four vehicles burned out in the Whitewell Road area of north Belfast on Tuesday night.
And now two families have been forced to flee their homes in the wake of the frightening attacks, in fear for their children's lives.
The cars belonged to four families of foreign nationals; two from Poland, one from Afghanistan and the other Slovakia.
A Polish man, who has lived in Northern Ireland for six years, said he had no idea where he, his wife and their young children – aged three and seven – would go, but said he could not put their lives at risk.
"We have to move tonight," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It is not safe for my children.
"I don't know where we will go, maybe friends', we'll see."
The family moved into the house just six weeks ago.
The remnants of a child's car seat were lying in front of his home.
The cars were all parked just feet from their owners' homes when torched at around 10.30pm.
The home of Mohamed Jan was also targeted. He said he would not be driven from the area but expressed fears for his family's safety.
He said he was previously the victim of a racist attack when his property in Tiger's Bay was set alight.
"I moved from Afghanistan 15 years ago to get away from trouble," said the father-of-three, whose children range in age from one to six.
"Last night was bad and we worry about what's next.
"If they burn my car, maybe the next time they will burn my house.
"But I will stay in this house, I will not leave.
"Where would we go? We cannot live on the street."
Mr Jan said he had been supported by members of the community following the attack.
A Slovakian man whose car was also badly damaged said he lost a day's work as he was unable to get to his job yesterday.
Nobody was injured as a result of the incident.
A police spokesman said: "At this stage, police are treating these incidents of arson as hate crimes."
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds (right) condemned those behind the attacks.
He said: "This is a disgraceful attack on residents' cars. It is utterly appaling that it is believed to be a hate crime with a racist motive.
"I understand that one family had to be helped out of their house as their car had been set alight in their driveway.
"Thankfully no one was injured but it will have been a terrifying experience for them all.
"Residents are disgusted that this attack has occurred in their area. These such attacks are deeply unsettling for the entire local community.
"Those responsible must be brought to justice. Their criminal actions will be despised by all right-thinking people. I appeal to anyone who can assist the investigation into these attacks to pass that information on to the PSNI without delay."
SDLP councillor Patrick Convery also hit out at those responsible.
"People who come here to live and work, and make it their home, should be free to do so in peace and it is totally unacceptable to do otherwise," he said.
"People must realise society is changing and that people from all walks of life, and all parts of the world, are becoming part of our society.
"People from Northern Ireland travel around the world and make different places their home. How would we feel if they were not made feel welcome?"
Witnesses to Tuesday night's incident are asked to contact police at York Road on 0845 600 8000.
A 36-year-old man arrested in connection with the attacks was released on bail.