The latest spate of racist attacks on over 100 Romanian people in Northern Ireland is part of a growing trend of discrimination against Roma people across Europe, Amnesty International has said.
Around 20 families of Roma people from Romania were forced to flee their homes in Belfast after coming under sustained attack for a number of nights. A crowd is reported to have gathered outside their homes shouting racist slogans, smashing windows and kicking in doors.
The Roma initially sought refuge in the City Church in South Belfast on Tuesday. They have subsequently been transferred by Northern Ireland authorities to temporary accommodation in a leisure centre elsewhere in the city.
Amnesty International has investigated and responded to similar attacks on the Roma in Europe, including in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia, in the past year.
An institutionalised crime against the Roma people is taking place in eastern Europe. A forthcoming report from Human Rights Watch documents an ongoing scandal at Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, which began 10 years ago in the wake of the looting and burning to the ground of the entire settlement known as the Roma Mahalla.
This was once a vibrant home to some 8,000 people, most of them Muslims. But the inhabitants fled, fearing attacks by ethnic Albanians who saw the Roma as “collaborators” with the Serbs, with whom they share a language. Some 6,500 of these Mitrovica Roma have never returned – indeed, only about a tenth of a prewar population of 200,000 Kosovan Roma remain. The Nato-led Kosovo Force did not intervene at the time in the blighting of the Mahalla, but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was quick to help the newly homeless, organising food and, over some months, places to live until their settlement could be restored.
However, these makeshift camps – with the exception of one installed in an old Yugoslav army barracks 30 miles (48km) away – are situated by the dams of an old lead mine, beside a three-storey-high “black mountain”, or toxic slag heap, “at the epicentre of contamination”, according to Wanda Troszczynska Van Genderen, a researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW) and author of the report. The defunct Trepca mine complex constitutes an entire region long known for its toxicity and therefore being unsuitable even for temporary use, let alone a decade of inactivity and neglect.