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Multicultural centre fire being treated as hate crime

The blaze extensively damaged a building that was being used as a food bank for vulnerable people during the pandemic.

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The fire at the Belfast Multi Cultural Association building is being treated as a hate crime (David Young/PA)

The fire at the Belfast Multi Cultural Association building is being treated as a hate crime (David Young/PA)

The fire at the Belfast Multi Cultural Association building is being treated as a hate crime (David Young/PA)

Police believe a fire that extensively damaged a multicultural centre in Belfast was started deliberately.

Officers are treating the blaze at the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association property on Donegall Pass in the south of the city as a hate crime.

Vehicles belonging to people working at the centre have previously been vandalised in hate crime incidents.

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Police in attendance at the fire-damaged building on Friday morning (David Young/PA)

Police in attendance at the fire-damaged building on Friday morning (David Young/PA)

PA

Police in attendance at the fire-damaged building on Friday morning (David Young/PA)

More than 50 firefighters fought the blaze, which started at around 9pm on Thursday. Seven fire appliances were used to bring the flames under control.

The damage to the property was visible on Friday, with much of the roof of the historic building destroyed.

No-one was inside when the fire started and there were no injuries reported.

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The building was being used as a food bank, with volunteers distributing packages to vulnerable people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The blaze broke out at about 9pm on Thursday (David Young/PA)

The blaze broke out at about 9pm on Thursday (David Young/PA)

PA

The blaze broke out at about 9pm on Thursday (David Young/PA)

In a statement, the association said it had been on the “receiving end of a lot of hostility and Islamophobia for years”.

It added: “We are heartbroken and shocked by these events but it will not deter us from any of our work. Our volunteers, despite shaken, are determined not to let down the communities we support.

“Thank-you to everyone who have been in contact to check up on us and extended their support and solidarity. We are immensely grateful for it all.”

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill said the attack was “despicable”.

They added: “The Belfast Multi-Cultural Association is a vital hub for minority communities in the city, and this mindless destruction will have a huge impact on many people’s lives.

“This was a despicable attack.

“It not only caused significant damage to what is a well-used community facility, but it also endangered the lives of the firefighters who had to make sure no one was inside the building and battle to extinguish the blaze.

“We and our Executive colleagues are committed to doing everything we can to eradicate racism and hate crime.”

By Friday evening, thousands of pounds had been raised via a crowdfunding website to help get the centre back to doing its vital work.

It was established by Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan.

He said: “The Belfast Multi-Cultural Association carries out valuable work across the community by running a food bank, distributing food parcels to the needy, homeless and vulnerable – especially vital during the pandemic.

“In time, they hope to have a community centre for educational and other support programmes.”

He added: “Belfast Multi-Cultural Association is Belfast at its best.

“It’s time to rally round, say no to racism and yes to supporting people in need in the city.”

Stormont Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey visited the centre on Friday afternoon to view the damage and speak to members of the association.

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Ms Hargey, who is also an MLA for the area, said she would work to find a temporary home to allow the association to continue its work.

“My concern now as Minister for Communities and also as a local MLA is turning to support the organisation, who are carrying out vital work in south Belfast and indeed across the city, supporting minority ethnic communities but indeed the whole community with essential frontline services, and particularly in the midst of a public health pandemic,” she said.

“I want to work with them in terms of what the department can do to support them and working with other agencies such as Belfast City Council to look at relocating them on an interim basis and to ensure that they can continue the support that they’re providing to the community in the time ahead.”


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