- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

BELFAST — Racist gangs in Northern Ireland are forcing black people out of their homes in part of an apparently orchestrated plan to “ethnically cleanse” Belfast.

Ethnic minority leaders have called for urgent government action to combat the wave of assaults and forced evictions.

Averaging about one attack a day, race-related crime has risen by more than tenfold since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, as loyalist Protestant paramilitaries appear intent on forcing the immigrant population out.

The concerted attacks have been focused in South Belfast where Asians, Chinese and Africans have been targeted.

The actions have been reinforced with graffiti of “Keep the Streets White” and, more sinisterly, a “Whites Only” message scrawled outside a primary school.

Nonwhite faces are a relative rarity in Northern Ireland, where the population of 1.7 million was 99.15 percent white just three years ago. However, recent waves of immigration to the province have increased the minority population.

The biggest ethnic group, according to the most recent census, is the Chinese (0.25 percent), who have been there since the 1960s. There are just 2,600 Africans. In one incident, a South African woman, who had lived in the sprawling Soweto ghetto during the apartheid era, was attacked inside her home in the Protestant working-class Village neighborhood in South Belfast.

Tandy, who did not want her last name published, answered a knock at the door to find a group of men who shouted, “Get the [expletive] out of here.”

She ran out the back door, leaving behind her children, aged 13 and 2, who remained silent upstairs, as the family’s television, kitchen, fireplace and video-game console were smashed.

Tandy, who moved to Belfast a year ago to study for a psychology degree, said, “I’m used to this coming from South Africa. I grew up to racism, but I am fed up with it here. I wanted to breathe the fresh air here, but then I came across racism again.”

Loyalist paramilitaries had close links throughout the three decades of religious clashes with racist groups such as the National Front and Combat 18. A group called the “White Nationalist Party” has distributed leaflets in several areas with ethnic minorities and the nativist British National Party recently said it would field several candidates in the next council elections.

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