All but two of the 114 Romanians who were forced to flee their homes after a spate of racist attacks have left Northern Ireland.
Over 70 flew out of Dublin Airport late yesterday after spending more than a week in temporary accommodation.
Twenty-five had already made the journey back home last weekend, with a further 17 making their way during the week.
The 22 displaced families — who are all Roma — had been staying in the student village at Queen’s University after their homes were repeatedly attacked, but that arrangement was meant to end on Wednesday.
A decision was made to allow the families to stay a further two days to give them time to decide.
However, the Belfast Telegraph understands if they chose to stay they would not have been entitled to housing or benefits in Northern Ireland. Yesterday, the remaining Roma families, who had been left terrified by the attacks, left south Belfast at around 7.30am.
They boarded a flight out of Dublin Airport yesterday afternoon. The flights were paid by the Housing Executive.
Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said she was disappointed that all but two of the foreign nationals had decided to leave.
Earlier this week 14 had said they wanted to remain in Northern Ireland.
Ms Ritchie also said that in light of the recent attacks — which made headlines around the world — she would be working with her department to devise strategies to counter racist attitudes in Northern Ireland’s communities.
“Yesterday was a sad day for Northern Ireland. It is a symbol of the sectarianism that still divides us and it is a marker that the only way forward is a shared future. I am very disappointed that all but two of the Romanians have chosen to leave,” she said.
“I am looking at how my own department can specifically help in countering racist attitudes in our community in the weeks and months ahead.
She added: “My thoughts are very much with the Romanians as they leave Northern Ireland. My drive is building the shared future that they and other migrant workers can live securely and happily in.”
Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is organising a rally to protest at the recent series of racist attacks aimed at migrant workers from Romania, Poland and India.
It will take place next Thursday, July 2, at Belfast City Hall, starting at 1pm.
Peter Bunting, ICTU Assistant General Secretary, said that the rally would also highlight what he described as the plight of migrant workers facing other threats to their well being, “from exploitative employers or others who seek to take advantage of their needs”.
He added: “The rally is also demanding a structured response from politicians and government agencies to work together with local and migrant community representatives to adequately represent and protect these working people who find themselves at the bottom rungs of the labour market.
“Exploitation is colour blind. People trafficking is a criminal enterprise which cannot be tolerated in a civilised society. It is as vicious as throwing stones or petrol bombs at the homes of families who happen to be foreign.
“Migrant workers and their families bring major benefits to Northern Ireland. Our economy, our culture and our quality of life is enhanced by pluralism, tolerance and solidarity across the language groups and races, as well as across the sectarian divide.”