A five-day-old baby is among 115 Romanian people who took overnight refuge in a church hall — too afraid to remain in their homes following a spate of racist attacks in south Belfast.
In the latest development to the shameful episode for Northern Ireland, it emerged last night that about 20 families accepted an offer of help from the local church after they left their homes in Lisburn Road following a week-long period of racist attacks by thugs claiming to be members of the fascist group Combat 18.
The church offered to help after seveal of the families tried to take refuge in a house at Wellesley Avenue.
The families said they were tired and frightened but that the help of the church had shown them a positive side to the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland.
A number of the families, which include a new born baby and several young children, have been so terrorised by the violent attacks against them that they are now making plans to return to Romania.
“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.
Belfast mayor Naomi Long last night visited the terrified families in an effort to show them they have the support of people living in the city.
“This is humanitarian issue as well as a race issue and work has to be done in the short term to make sure these people have somewhere to live and in the long term to ensure these issues are dealt with,” she said.
On Monday night around 200 people gathered on the Lisburn Road to protest against racist attacks in the area.
Protest organiser Paddy Meehan said a number of foreign nationals who were living in the area have since moved to a “safe house”. He added that local residents are doing all they can to support the victims.
“People are absolutely livid about what has been happening here and it has to stop. This has been happening since last Wednesday,” he said.
Meanwhile, police have appealed for calm following the latest tensions and they have reiterated their view that the attacks were not the work of organised extremist gangs, but of people from within the area.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, PSNI Area Commander Chief Inspector Robert Murdie said video footage from the event was being examined to try and catch the culprits.
“We are trawling through that to try and identify those involved. We strongly feel at this time that they are from the local area, they haven’t been brought in, they are not organised crime gangs,” he said.