Roma racism victims to be flown home

DUBLIN (AP) – More than 100 Romanian Gypsies who suffered racist attacks and intimidation in Belfast are being flown back home at taxpayers’ expense, the government of Northern Ireland said yesterday. The news came as politicians condemned the latest destructive act by anti-Romanian youths. A Protestant church that had provided emergency shelter to the immigrants last week suffered several broken windows overnight – mirroring a wave of earlier attacks on the residences of Romanians in working-class Protestant parts of south Belfast. Northern Ireland Housing Minister Margaret Ritchie said 25 of the 117 Romanians targeted by stone-throwing extremists have already been flown back to Romania, while most of the rest were expected to leave soon. All were having their temporary housing and flights paid for by the government’s Housing Executive. She said only 14 planned to stay in Belfast, where Eastern European immigrants housed in the poorest Protestant districts frequently have suffered hostility ranging from bigoted graffiti to broken windows. «The fact is the vast majority of them, if not all, want to return home,» Ritchie said. She said the anti-Romanian violence demonstrated that parts of Northern Ireland still viewed other ethnic groups with hatred, despite more than a decade of peacemaking between the territory’s British Protestant majority and its Irish Catholic minority. «The prize of peace has surely to be a community at ease with itself and welcoming to others,» she said. The housing minister said she was «saddened but not shocked» that stone-throwers had damaged the evangelical Protestant church hall that offered emergency shelter last week to the Romanians. But Pastor Malcolm Morgan, the minister who arrived yesterday at his City Church to find its windows shattered, said he was pleased to have offered Christian aid – and would do again, as often as necessary, regardless of the damage his church suffered. «I was just thrilled that we, as a church, were able to respond last week, and we would do the same tomorrow,» he said. Three Protestant teens and men have been charged with intimidating Romanians from their homes, and police were questioning two more youths aged 15 and 16 on suspicion of involvement.