Asians live under siege as hatred thrives in a broken community: Families are forced to leave socially deprived area after intimidation and abuse leads to fortified homes and security guards for worshippers

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The Independent Online
Midnight in Newcastle. Raj was walking home after working at a take-away when he heard the familiar call: 'Black bastard, black bastard.'

As he turned to face the two white youths, he was punched in the head and then beaten and kicked unconscious. He spent two days in hospital. It was one of a growing number of race attacks taking place in the city, particularly against Asians.

Raj, 23, said: 'When you walk up the street and see some kids you have to duck into someone's house or change direction because you will get spat on or abused - it doesn't matter what time of the day it is.'

The Asian population is concentrated in the socially deprived West End district of Newcastle.

In Elswick ward, more than 20 per cent of the population is from ethnic minorities. The Asians are made up of Pakistanis, Indians and Bengalis. The second largest group is the Chinese community, which is based in the East End of the city, where there have been a few reports of racist violence. There are only about 1,000 Afro-Caribbeans.

Driving in parts of the West End has become a hazard. Young people will stand in front of cars with Asian drivers to bar their way, throw objects at the vehicles and bang on the sides. In a recent case a woman, while stopped at a junction, had her passenger door opened and teenagers pelted her with eggs.

An Elswick resident recalled a recent incident: 'I had parked the car and was about to pull away when two young girls stood in front blocking me.

'When I told them to move their mother came out with a broom and starting calling me a 'black bastard'. In the end, I was forced to reverse the car.'

A tour of some of the streets in Elswick is depressing. The brick terraces in Lady Kirk Road and Farndale Road have been stripped bare of humanity. Almost all of the properties are boarded and abandoned. A few white people sit outside the few remaining homes.

It was not always like this. An Asian taxi driver recalled a time in the Eighties when three- bedrooomed houses in Lady Kirk Road fetched pounds 60,000 to pounds 70,000. No one will buy them now for pounds 5,000. He said: 'Most black people have been driven out of this area. It used to be lovely - people used to be friendly, it was a proper community.'

In an attempt to keep out burglars, residents have cemented rows of slivers of glass on top of walls at the back of their homes. It is clear why such measures are taken. On Thursday afternoon a young man, in clear view of passers-by, attempted to break into a house. Two policemen spotted him and unsuccessfully gave chase. Further down the road is the African Centre, which was partly burnt down last year. Nearby is the Bengali Association, which has the National Front's initials daubed on the front door. The windows and doors have been fitted with protective metal shutters.

The Shahjalal Mosque and Islamic Centre in Septre Street is one of the saddest sights. A steel door and shutters were fitted after a petrol bomb was thrown at the building and windows were repeatedly smashed.

The only thing which identifies the concrete building as a temple of worship is a small yellow sign.

A spokesman for the centre, who like almost all of the people questioned was frightened of having his name published for fear of reprisals, said children as young as five frequently bombard the building and worshippers with eggs, rocks and verbal abuse.

In August 1992, an elderly Asian man was murdered as he walked to the mosque. The killer, Niels Nielsen, had earlier punched another Asian on his way to prayers and kicked his way into the home of a third while shouting racist abuse. He was jailed for life last year.

During the recent Ramadan - the Muslim holy month - the community was forced to hire private security guards to provide 24-hour protection for worshippers going to the mosque.

White people questioned in the area blame the Asians for 'scrounging off the state' and 'ruining the area'. Others feel ashamed that 'a few people are giving the area a reputation'.

Kaur moved with her family to Newcastle from London four years ago. During their eight-year stay in the capital they had no problems with racism.

Until several weeks ago they were the only black family living in a street in the district of Scotswood - much of which is now considered a no-go area for black people. But after having their windows smashed 14 times with stones, bricks and air gun pellets, and being burgled three times, they moved out.

During one incident, glass from a window showered on to Kaur's four-year-old son as he slept. He escaped uninjured but his one-year-old sister cut her feet during a similar attack. 'We were terrified of ever going out - we were trapped in our home, it was like a living hell,' she said.

The family has now moved to a housing association flat in a different area of the city. The day after they arrived, burglars stole most of their possessions.

But it is not just Asians who have suffered abuse. An Afro-Caribbean man who is married to a white woman was recently attacked in the street. Youths threatened his wife and asked: 'Why are you going out with a jungle boy?'

Sohail, 17, who came to Newcastle from Pakistan to study in February last year, has been the victim of two racist attacks.

The first occurred one afternoon while collecting catalogue orders from homes in the Fenham area. A white youth went up to him and demanded to know what he was doing. He then started shouting abuse and hit him several times about the face, back and legs with a bicycle chain. 'There were three or four families watching, I felt sure someone would do something, but they didn't move,' recalled Sohail.

In a second incident he and two other Asians were severely beaten in an unprovoked attack at school by eight white youths. 'Before I came here I thought it was going to be a really good country and that people would be educated. But everything seems bad and ugly now,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)