Belfast Telegraph

Loyalists forced Belfast mum who converted to Islam from her home - children suffered vile abuse

Woman tells of racist abuse as review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland is announced

Racist graffiti in east Belfast
Racist graffiti in east Belfast
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

A Muslim woman from Belfast has spoken out about the racist abuse she and her family has been forced to endure.

The mother has chosen to tell her story after the Department of Justice asked a judge to oversee a review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland.

Desmond Marrinan, the judge leading the review, will oversee the work of a group of experts and will report in a year's time on their findings.

Sumaiyah Ferguson was forced out of her east Belfast home by loyalist paramiltaries after becoming a Muslim six years ago.

Ms Ferguson, speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster, said her family had been the target of racist abuse even before she became a Muslim.

"My children are mixed race, so living in a small Northern Ireland area wasn't good," she said.

"My sons were only ever referred to as the n-word. Even when new kids came into the area, they introduced him with the n-word. That is why we moved out, we thought Belfast is a bigger area, more diverse.

"I wasn't Muslim when I moved into the area in east Belfast, but whenever I did become Muslim, I still didn't wear the hijab or anything like that. Someone just happened to see me come out of the Mosque from the area."

Racist graffiti in Portrush

Ms Ferguson said that two girls then came to her home and attacked her. The next day paramilitaries came to her door and told her she had 24 hours to leave the area.

She said the girls screamed racist abuse at her, saying she was a "f****** Muslim" and that she was "going to bomb".

She was at home with her young daughter, who were five and two-years-old, during the incident.

The family was then re-homed in south Belfast.

"It is a very diverse area, there is a lot of Muslims," she said. 

"My girls go to a school, it is not integrated, but it is even more integrated than an integrated school. My son is 18. He would still get racially abused in the town centre."

Racist graffiti in Ballysillan

Ms Ferguson said she knows people who have moved to Northern Ireland after fleeing the war in Syria who have been racially abuse.

"They get a bombardment of abuse from gangs of youths- they don't know they are just little toerags, so they are standing there in fear."

Ms Ferguson called for verbal abuse of ethnic and religious minorities to be made a crime, liking it to a physical assault.

As well as new laws around racist abuse, Mr Marrinan's review may result in legislation regarding the display of paramilitary flags.

"It will be looked at very closely to see if the law can be strengthened, particularly sectarian slogans or effigies being used in that way," he told the BBC.

"But the review will be much more all-encompassing."

Mr Marrinan said that racist abuse normally goes unpunished.

"If someone was simply to use offensive language, say towards a person from an ethnic minority, without the accompanying use of disorderly behaviour, the police would find it very difficult to find a crime to cover that."

The review will produce an agreed definition of a hate crime.

According to PSNI figures, there are around 1,500 hate crimes reported each year.

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