Belfast– A Nigerian man has told the Guardian how he was forced to abandon a new home assigned to him by housing executives after protests about housing shortages in the area turned racist.
Mr Abiona who had intended to move in with his son was met with banners with inscriptions such as ‘Houses for local people only’ outside of the house. He has since fled the area for fear of safety for his family.
Speaking to the BBC, Abiona called the act ‘racist and discriminating’ adding that, “It speaks for itself. The banner…it’s just shameful that this is happening in this era, and at this stage.”
He told The Guardian, “I am just worried about the atmosphere after this latest incident. The people protesting told me it was nothing to do with racism. But I asked them why, if they have grievance about housing in the area, are they picking on me?”
Recent reports suggest that housing discrimination in Ireland is prevalent although a law prohibiting such has been created to allow everyone equal access to housing.
Some of the protesters have hit back at claims that the protests were racially motivated. One local resident speaking to the BBC said, “We’re actually horrified we’re being called racist, because if you come up into our community at 3 p.m. and see the children getting out of school and the people, this is a mixed community”.
Irish MP Naomi Long expressed her dismay at the banners saying, “This sort of behaviour has no place in our community and does nothing but send out the message that east Belfast is unwelcoming, when we know the opposite is true”.
“I hope the experience has not traumatised this poor family, who should be free to live where they wish without intimidation.
However, Abiona insists that the protests were ‘indirectly racist’. He said “It might be indirect racism at best, but it was very much direct intimidation. I tried to tell them that I am not the one who judges who gets a house and who does not. Actually, they knew nothing about or the fact that I have lived in Belfast for four years and the UK for eight.”
He also added that the incident was not the first time he’d be a victim of racism in the area after a previous encounter with youth gangs in the area who pelted him with stones as he made his way down the street.
A report by Northern Ireland Council for ethnic Minorities reveals that there have been at least 3 incidences of race hate daily in the area since the start of January 2014.