A Nigerian family was forced to vacate their new home in Belfast, Ireland after a series of protests and taunts.
Michael Abiona says he had to leave his government-owned home after a week of anti-immigrant protests that felt eerily similar to a racially motivated attack he experienced in the past. According to the Guardian, a group of people held up signs with Houses 4 Local People” and “We need Homes 2,” painted on them.
While the group claimed their protest wasn’t about race, Abiona, who was granted the house because he’s disabled, wonders why he was singled out.
“I am just worried about the atmosphere after this latest incident,” he told the Guardian. “The people protesting told me it was nothing to do with racism but I asked them why, if they have a grievance about housing in the area, are they picking on me?
“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. ”
Belfast has experienced an uptick in racially motivated crimes as of late. Last year, anti-Black graffiti was sprayed on a house occupied by two Nigerian men, and this year racist attacks have increased.
Racist graffiti in Belfast, 2013. Photograph: Stephen Barnes/Demotix/Corbis
Abiona has also been a victim of a racist assault. In 2011, he was chased by a group of teenage boys.
“This also took place in East Belfast and it involved teenage boys throwing stones and bottles at me as I passed by in the street,” he explained. “They then chased me down the street carrying iron rods and threatened me.
“Only for a good neighbor who saw what was going on and came out to take me inside his house, and stand up to these youths I would have been badly beaten up or worse.”
Protestors say their beef with Abiona has nothing to do with race, but rather housing. A local resident told the BBC, “We’re actually horrified we’re being called racist, because if you come up into our community at 3pm, and see the children getting out of school and the people, this is a mixed community.”
Liam Kinney of the Housing Executive said race was definitely a factor, and the situation was “becoming slightly worrying in Belfast over the past few months.”
Kinney explained, “We have probably over 10 cases now, particularly in south and east Belfast, where people have been prohibited moving into properties that were entitled to those properties.”
Abiona said he doesn’t want to leave Northern Ireland, but he’s afraid for his young son.
“The safety of my son comes first. His mother told me she would not allow him to come and visit me there,” he told the BBC. “My son comes first, so I’m not going to go back to the premises.”