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Shocking calls to picket foreign homes as 46 are forced to flee

By Lesley-Anne Henry

More than 40 foreign nationals have been intimidated out of loyalist parts of Belfast over the past two weeks, the Polish Association has claimed.

The dramatic upsurge follows violent clashes between Northern Ireland and Polish football fans almost a fortnight ago.

Eleven police officers were injured and a substantial amount of damage caused when gangs of Polish supporters went on the rampage before and after the World Cup qualifier on March 28.

Police said those involved in the violence do not live in Belfast but had travelled from Dublin and Scotland intent on trouble.

Since the match intimidation of Slovakians, Hungarians, Lithuanians and Polish people living and working in south and east Belfast has escalated.

A stormy public meeting to discuss the tensions in the Village heard repeated calls from the audience for foreign residents to be removed. There were even suggestions of pickets to force them out.

According to the Polish Association, which held an advice clinic for ethnic minorities forced out earlier this week, 46 people have fled the Village and Albertbridge Road areas because of physical abuse and attacks on property.

It is understood a number of those who left loyalist areas have presented themselves as homeless to the Housing Executive while others have sought refuge with friends.

Maciek Bator, from the Northern Ireland Polish Association, said at least five people had left Northern Ireland.

“In south Belfast the majority of people who have been attacked have decided to leave, especially those with children. They have left the Village area. There have also been a couple of attacks in east Belfast.”

Mr Bator believes young people were behind the damage and urged locals to see ethnic minorities as part of the community.

“Some people really want rid of the Poles from loyalist areas. They should not be looking at Poles as trouble makers. It is important to realise that they are beneficial for the local community, they are spending money in the local shops and are occupying the houses in the area.”

Ulster Unionist councillor Bobby Stoker disputed the figures put forward by the Polish Association.

“I think the numbers have been exaggerated. I understand the Housing Executive have six people looking for new homes. But as far as the community is concerned we don’t want to see anyone leave their houses. We are totally opposed to any sorts of abuse, attacks or intimidation. We have lived with it for over 30 years in the Village,” he said.

A PSNI spokeswoman said patrols have been stepped up in the Village and east Belfast in a bid to ease tensions.

The Housing Executive said: “Eight people have presented themselves as homeless in south Belfast and have cited trouble in the Village as the reason.”

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