Victims to return to Romania

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The Independent Online

Up to 100 Romanians who fled their homes after a series of racist attacks are leaving Northern Ireland altogether, it was confirmed yesterday.

Twenty-five have already gone and 75 plan to go in the coming days. Just 14 have decided to stay in Belfast.

As they made their travel plans, there was outrage when the church that offered them sanctuary for a night last week had its windows smashed. Three men aged 20 were arrested hours later at a house a short distance from the City Church in south Belfast's University Avenue.

A 21-year-old man also appeared in court in Belfast charged with intimidating Romanians. On Monday, boys aged 15 and 16 appeared in court on charges linked to the attacks.

Two more teenagers aged 16 and 17 were being questioned about intimidation and provocative conduct.

Announcing that 100 people had decided to return to Romania, the Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said the government would fund their flights. "We are not a racist society, but it's now time we took a serious look at ourselves. There is now an urgency and an imperative to build a shared society," she said. "We live apart. We are educated apart, and therefore it is no surprise that this is a 'them and us' attitude. We have to work to challenge that attitude. There must be total respect for political, religious and ethnic differences."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited the church and branded the attack "absolutely wrong, totally shameful and... unforgivable".

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