Rise in Belfast hate crime reports
The number of racist crimes reported in Belfast has almost doubled in the last year, new figures have indicated.
There have also been significant increases in recorded rates of homophobic and sectarian incidents, the police data has shown.
Allegations of a racist nature are up 87% from the 115 recorded between April and November in 2012 to 215 in the same period this year.
The number of recorded homophobic incidents has gone up by almost 50%, from 34 to 50 in the same time-frame, with more than a 36% increase in reported sectarian crimes - up to 259 compared with 190 incidents in the seven-month period last year.
The figures were highlighted by Belfast City Council as evidence of a greater confidence in reporting hate crimes, rather than a sudden surge in criminality.
The council, working in conjunction with the PSNI, Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) and a number of other agencies, has launched a billboard and online campaign encouraging the reporting of such incidents by both victims and witnesses.
Councillor Maire Hendron, chairman of the Good Relations Steering Group, said: "While the PSNI has cited an increase in the number of hate crime incidents that are being reported, and that is to be welcomed, there is still a lot of work to be done as it has been estimated that as many as 80% of these kind of crimes go unreported.
"Belfast is becoming more and more diverse, with many minority ethnic groups making this city their home and it's important that we as a council show civic leadership. While the investigation of hate crime is a police matter, we're working hard through our tension monitoring to establish channels of communication and to raise awareness about how to report hate crime - be it racist, sectarian or homophobic.
"There are often very practical challenges, for example language barriers, so it's important that we work with communities to build confidence, and encourage victims of these kind of crimes to come forward and report them, as well as being able to offer them advice and support."
Ms Hendron added: "There are a number of reasons why this type of crime goes unreported - from fear of reprisals, a lack of confidence in the system, or even ignorance that a crime has been committed. This campaign will hopefully focus people's minds on what a hate crime is and how they, as a fellow citizen, need to speak up and report this kind of behaviour."
PSNI Chief Inspector Gabriel Moran said: "The PSNI has been working with a range of partners to encourage victims of any hate crime to report their experience to police. Over the last number of years a series of mechanisms have been established to assist minority groups in the community to increase engagement with police. Literature has been produced in a number of different languages to make the reporting process easier for victims. Hate crime advocates also exist to support victims of hate crime and advocacy groups are also a key channel for reporting incidents.
"It is important that reporting takes place when an incident occurs so that evidential opportunities can be maximised. For anyone who may be a witness to a hate crime incident, they are also being encouraged to play an active part by providing statements etc, so that perpetrators of such crimes can be brought before the courts and successful prosecutions secured."
The campaign is supported under the Peace III Plan by the EU's European Regional Development Fund.
For more information, visit www.belfastcity.gov.uk/hatecrime