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Northern Ireland: ‘Race hate attackers going unpunished’ – one year on, no-one charged for arson attack on Belfast multi-cultural centre

Joint statement from Amnesty International and Belfast Multi-Cultural Association

‘We feel let down by the police.’ – Muhammad Atif

‘Police figures show that the vast majority of racist hate crimes in Northern Ireland go unpunished.’ – Patrick Corrigan

One year on from the arson attack which destroyed the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association’s building in Belfast, race hate attackers are going unpunished in Northern Ireland, according to Amnesty International.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are treating the arson attack on the historic building on Donegall Pass as a hate crime, but no-one has been charged with carrying out the devastating incident at the former church on Donegall Pass on the night of 14 January 2021.

The building was being used as a food bank, with volunteers distributing packages to vulnerable people during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Association’s volunteers are now running their services from private premises, while the building is subject to extensive repair work.

Donations flooded in for the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association after its food bank in the city was gutted by the fire, with £71,733 raised in an online appeal set up by Amnesty’s Patrick Corrigan.

Muhammad Atif, a trustee of Belfast Multi-Cultural Association, said:

“It is disappointing but no surprise to us that no-one has been held to account for the arson attack.

“Of course, we feel let down by the police. But that is the experience of most people in Northern Ireland who are subjected to racially-motivated hate crimes.”

“The arson attack left us heartbroken, but our work goes on and we will come back stronger.”

Ali Khan, chairperson of Belfast Multi-Cultural Association, said:

“Sadly, none of the promises made to us by politicians in the wake of the attack about new premises came to fruition either. No suitable buildings were identified for our use, but ultimately we found alternative private premises for our work to continue.

“Our volunteers have worked incredibly hard to keep the food bank and other services going to help people in need across Belfast and we continue to be grateful to the public for their support. Thanks to that support, the scaffolding is up and the repair work on the building is now under way.”

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:

“Police figures show that the vast majority of racist hate crimes in Northern Ireland go unpunished. In that respect, the arson attack on Belfast Multi-Cultural Association is sadly no different to the hundreds of racist crimes which are inflicted every year.

“In 90% of cases of racially motivated hate crime in Northern Ireland – mostly attacks on people and property – the people responsible are going unpunished. Minority ethnic communities here have every right to feel let down by the police.”

Figures published in November by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) revealed that 1,231 racist incidents and 864 racist crimes have been recorded by the police for the year ending September 30, 2021 - an increase of 353 racist incidents and 276 racist crimes on the previous 12 months.

The most common racist hate crimes to take place are assault and criminal damage. Only one in ten (10.4%) racist hate crimes results in charges or summons. That is around half the rate (20%) seen with other crimes.

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