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Northern Ireland: 'A safe haven for racists' - six months on from race hate attack on multi-cultural centre

Still no accountability for January 2021 racist arson attack on Belfast Multi-Cultural Association

We feel let down by the police. We don’t know where we can be safe.’ – Muhammad Atif

‘Police figures show that the vast majority of racist hate crimes in Northern Ireland go unpunished. This one appears to be no different.’ – Patrick Corrigan

Six months on from the arson attack which destroyed the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association’s building in Belfast, Northern Ireland is now deemed a “safe haven for racists”, says Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director.

Police 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 attack 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:

“The arson attack left us heartbroken, but we are determined to come back stronger.

“Our volunteers have worked incredibly hard to keep our food bank and other services going to help people in need across Belfast.

“It comes as no surprise to us that no-one has been held to account for this crime.

“Based on our previous engagement with the PSNI over the repeated harassment our volunteers experienced, we had very low expectations of the police catching the culprits. Sadly, those expectations have been met.

“We feel let down by the police. We don’t know where we can be safe.”

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. This one appears to be no different.

“Only one in ten of all racist hate crimes result in charges or a summons. That's around half the rate seen with other crimes. Racially motivated hate crimes now outstrip sectarian crimes in Northern Ireland, despite the tiny population from Black and ethnic minority communities.

“With 90% of race hate crimes going unpunished, sadly, Northern Ireland is a safe haven for racists.

“The police have clearly lost the confidence of many in ethnic minority communities to keep them safe. That is a crisis for policing in any society and should be treated as such by the PSNI leadership and the Policing Board who are supposed to hold them to account.”

In the twelve months to March 31 2021, there were 993 racist incidents recorded by the PSNI, 57 more than for the previous 12 months, and 719 racist crimes recorded, an increase of 93 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.

Hate crime in Northern Ireland

The number of racially motivated hate crimes reported to the PSNI has regularly outstripped those with a sectarian motivation since 2016, despite a small Black and minority ethnic population.

There have been 6,502 race hate crimes reported to the police in the last decade. In 2019/20 only 6.1% of racially motivated cases of criminal damage – such as arson attacks on homes and other buildings - resulted in any sort of policing outcome, such as charges or summons, compared to a general clear-up rate for such crimes of 17%.

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