Race hate victims ‘enduring months of attacks’

A shop on Donegall Road in south Belfast which was targeted in a series of attacks over the summer. File photo by Jonathan Porter, Press Eye

A shop on Donegall Road in south Belfast which was targeted in a series of attacks over the summer. File photo by Jonathan Porter, Press Eye

VICTIMS of race hate crimes are enduring months of attacks before reporting them to police, a support worker has said.

Nikki Yau, a race hate crime advocate based at the Migrant Centre NI in Derry, said the level of underreporting of race hate crime, including against ethnic minorities and European migrants such as people from Poland or Romania, “is very high”.

And a senior PSNI officer, who is also president of the National Black Police Association (NBPA), said that ethnic minority groups feel hate crimes are “less of a priority for PSNI” than they previously were.

A spate of racially-motived arson against ethnic minority-owned businesses in south Belfast over the summer has raised concerns about the scale of race hate crimes across Northern Ireland.

Ms Yau said many of the people she helps are reluctant to report attacks to police and only do so when they feel they have no other choice.

“We hear our clients say all this has been happening over the last maybe six months, 12 months,” she said.

“And this is the first time I report it. Because I had enough. I feel this is escalating.”

One family Ms Yau supported faced months of racist intimidation from their neighbours, including banging on the door, shouting abuse, and playing loud music at night.

The neighbours themselves complained that the family were making too much noise.

“Even when they make tea, or try to do normal cooking, the neighbours will complain they are noisy,” she said.

“And I told her ‘look, you're allowed to make noise’. That is just a general noise. It's not like you're having a rave every night.

“But she was trying not to anger the neighbour, and they will even try not to cook at home, they will eat outside.”

Migrant Centre NI has supported hundreds of victims of race hate crime, dealing with 450 cases across Northern Ireland in 2022/23 alone.

Ms Yau said crimes range from verbal attacks to brutal physical assaults.

She recently supported an elderly woman who needed several surgeries on her jaw following a random attack on the street.

“Her health has deteriorated since the attack; her mouth is dropping all the time,” she said.

“It's really difficult, especially because she needs an interpreter to help as well.”

Nikki Yau from Migrant Centre NI

Nikki Yau from Migrant Centre NI

Hate crime guidance

The PSNI’s guidance states that if a victim perceives an offence to be a hate crime then it should be recorded as such.

However Ms Yau said in some cases police have quibbled with victims about whether attacks and abuse are racially motivated.

“Sometimes police say to the victim they are taking things in the wrong context, like when they say ‘go back to your home, we don't want you here’,” she said.

“For a migrant, they understand that when you're talking about ‘going back to my country’.

“Sometimes the police will argue with you about the context.

“But it's really up to the victim's perception, not you, because you don't know how we feel.”

Andy George, a PSNI chief inspector and president of the National Black Police Association (NBPA), told The Detail that ethnic minority communities in Northern Ireland have raised concerns about how race hate crimes are treated.

“The community have raised this issue with (the NBPA) on a number of occasions and it is something that concerns our association,” he said.

He added: “The wider concerns relate to the lack of contact with ethnic minority communities during training, lack of representation in the Policing Board and (Policing and Community Safety Partnerships) as well as hate crimes being seen as less of a priority for PSNI than it was previously.”

PSNI Superintendent Sue Steen said the force is running a new hate crime campaign ‘In Their Shoes’ aimed at encouraging victims to report to police.

“The recording and investigation of hate crime, as well as the support of victims and communities who experience it, is a priority for the Police Service,” she said.

“It is also a priority that police officers clearly understand the recording process for hate crimes and incidents and the importance of victim perception.

“We have issued guidance on this.”

PSNI Superintendent Michael Simpson, from the Police College, said student officers receive training on hate crime.

“The Police College consults widely when developing the student officer course content, including the support of our minority support associations,” he said.

“There is also ongoing engagement with the Police Service’s strategic hate crime lead to ensure that our training products remain current.”

Andy George, a PSNI chief inspector and president of the National Black Police Association (NBPA)

Andy George, a PSNI chief inspector and president of the National Black Police Association (NBPA)

Race hate evidence

Ms Yau said victims’ neighbours are often reluctant to give statements so she recommends families targeted in repeated attacks or abuse install CCTV in order to improve the chances of the perpetrator being charged or convicted.

“One of my cases is exactly like that,” she said.

“You can't see my client and the perpetrator, the neighbour, but you can hear what the neighbour was saying loud and clear.”

She said most victims just want the attacks to stop.

“I think a lot of migrants just want to live here quietly,” she said.

“One of my clients was saying, ‘Oh, I don't want to get them into trouble or go to jail, I just want them to stop, that's it.”

Over the last five years, race hate crimes have exceeded sectarian crimes, even though, according to the 2021 Census, minority ethnic groups and newer migrants, including Polish immigrants, account for 7.8% of the population or 149,234 people.

Between 2017 and 2022, 3,586 race hate crimes were reported, compared to 3,291 sectarian crimes over the same period.

A 2020 independent review into hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland, noted that: “In practical terms, there is approximately a one in 31 chance of being the victim of a reported racial hate incident compared to approximately one in 1,777 chance of being a victim of a reported sectarian hate incident.”

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, said that while his organisation encourages victims of crime to report it to the police, many have said that they have stopped doing so “because bitter experience tells them that nothing will happen”.

Between 2017/18 and 2021/22 only around one in eight (12.12%) reported hate crimes resulted in someone being charged or summonsed to court.

Mr Corrigan said much more needed to be done to tackle hate crime.

“The police, the PPS (Public Prosecution Service) and the Executive if and when it returns, must do much more to halt the rise in hate crimes and give victims the justice they deserve,” he said.

The PPS said it is important that victims of hate crimes report them to police.

“We understand that some victims of hate crimes may be reluctant to come forward for a variety of reasons,” a spokesman said.

“We would encourage anyone who is the victim of a hate crime to report their experiences to police so we can work together to tackle these offences, which may be by way of a decision to prosecute, or to proceed by way of an alternative non court disposal, particularly if the complainant does not want to fully engage with the criminal justice process.

“We in the PPS are committed to prosecuting these cases where they meet the legal test for prosecution and ensuring victims are listened to and treated with sensitivity and respect.”

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