Leading article

Persistent problem of hate crimes

AFTER a year in which communities have come together in countless inspiring ways to support each other through the Covid pandemic, it is deeply depressing to report again on race hate attacks on our streets.

This paper revealed shocking details yesterday of how a Portuguese woman has been intimidated from two separate houses in Belfast in less than a month.

In the most recent incident, the woman's home in the Woodvale Avenue area was targeted by up to nine masked men armed with hammers.

The gang broke in on Wednesday night and caused significant damage, smashing the kitchen and breaking windows throughout the property as well as in two cars.

It followed a similar attack on the woman's previous home at Ainsworth Avenue, in the Shankill Road area of the city, less than a month ago.

On that occasion, she said she was confronted by a man who told her "to go back to my country... and if I don't go quickly all the windows in our house will be smashed, and it happened".

Police have confirmed that both attacks are being treated as a racially-motivated hate crimes.

The victim, who has lived in both England and Northern Ireland for several years and has British citizenship, said she will now stay with friends and put her home up for sale.

The mentality of anyone who targets a person because of the colour of their skin or place of origin is difficult for the vast majority in society to understand, but the problem remains a persistent one and there is evidence it has even grown in the past year.

In the 12 months up to March 31, the PSNI recorded almost 1,000 racist incidents and more than 700 racist crimes - a rise of 57 and 93 respectively compared with the previous year.

Equally alarmingly, sectarian incidents and crimes were reported at similar levels and rose year-on-year, as did crimes motivated by homophobia.

To experience an increase in racially-motivated crimes, at a time when the contribution of foreign nationals to our health service in particular has never been so important, simply defies logic.

The most recent attacks have been rightly condemned, and it must be hoped that the bravery of the victim in telling her story can prompt someone to provide police with the information they need to bring those responsible to justice.

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