A human rights group has said authorities must do more to confront a scourge of “organised racism” in Belfast.
It follows an arson attack on the Donegall Road area of south Belfast on Sunday, where a Syrian businessman has said he will be forced to find another premises after saving for seven years to open a grocery store.
The fire was the last straw in a campaign of racist intimidation over two weeks, including graffiti on the shutters claiming the area was for locals only.
Last month, a business on the nearby Sandy Row was targeted in what police also called a racially-motivated hate crime.
In a similar pattern, the business had also been subjected to two months of intimidation including painting over and stealing signs, smashing windows and igniting a bin outside.
Séan Brady, from the Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) group, said it has become a routine practice and claimed that areas like the Donegall Road have become the “epi-centre of racism in Belfast”.
“The collective response from the PSNI and the authorities is completely inadequate. This problem isn’t going away,” he said.
“It’s not going to go away by treating it as a series of individual incidents. It’s a serious problem in that area and needs to be addressed with resources to tackle organised racist violence."
He said victims were left with limited options, to leave or stay and risk further attacks.
“The attacks on this man’s business on Donegall Road aren’t new. He was reporting them over and over again. He stayed for the first group of attacks and then this is the final straw,” he said.
“This man has had no adequate protection. A lot more needs to be done by the political representatives in that area.
“It’s one of the wealthiest parts of the city but in this small pocket you have persistent racist violence going on.”
Mr Brady said he did not believe it was because people in the area were any more racist than other parts of the city.
“There’s something going on here and it needs to be given the attention it deserves.”
The SDLP’s councillor for Botanic, Gary McKeown, agreed a more coordinated response was needed to tackle those who are responsible for these crimes, which don't have the support of the community.
“I was chair of the south Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) last year and in nearly every meeting I was raising incidents like this and asking what could be done," he said.
“This resulted in coordinated efforts between the Housing Executive and police to deal with some of these issues, as in addition to arson attacks, there are constant incidents of people being intimidated out of their homes or from taking houses that have been allocated to them.
"There are also issues around under-reporting, so work needs done to give confidence to victims that these crimes will be investigated thoroughly.
“Racist crime is something that has been extremely high up on my agenda and that I'm very concerned about, and these recent incidents just bring it back into focus.”
“A targeted multi-agency approach is essential."
On the PPR claims that areas like the Donegal Road have become the epi-centre of racism in Belfast, he added: “I think it’s important not to demonise an entire area.
“It’s not fair to residents that are just getting on with their lives and aren’t in any way racist.
“The point is that we need to target those responsible and to make sure it’s done in a concerted and effective way. We also need political leadership to call this out.”