Northern Ireland

Banners at Nigerian man's home 'racist' - Naomi Long

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Media captionBanners were put up outside the house

Banners put outside a house in east Belfast where a man originally from Nigeria was due to move in were "blatantly racist", Alliance MP Naomi Long has said.

Michael Abiona, 34, was greeted with posters reading "Local Houses 4 Local People" at Glenluce Drive on Tuesday.

Mr Abiona, who has been living in Northern Ireland since 2010, said he was too afraid to move in.

Mrs Long said: "This sort of behaviour has no place in our community."

She added: "Any right-thinking person will condemn this blatantly racist behaviour and I have no doubt the vast majority of residents in the area will be sickened by it.

"Rather than Mr Abiona and his family, it is this kind of vile behaviour that should be unwelcome in our society."

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Media captionMichael Abiona said that his plans for moving home have now been "shattered"

First Minister Peter Robinson said: "Nobody should be judged on the colour of their skin, on their political or religious background, or their race."

However, he added: "I'm not sure this can be described as racism in terms of what the intention of the local people was.

"There is massive concern (about housing), and of course local in these terms means very local, you might have had exactly the same reaction if it was somebody from up-country moving into a local area where local people weren't able to get houses in the locality where they've been brought up in."

Anti-racist rallies have been held across Northern Ireland in recent weeks following a spate of hate crimes.

Mr Abiona, who has osteoarthritis, was allocated a bungalow in Garnerville by the Housing Executive.

He told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster he had gone to meet a boiler repairman at the property when he saw a group of people sitting outside.

"I thought they were just out enjoying the sunshine and having fun but then I saw the banners at the front of the building," he said.

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Media captionA resident in Glenluce Drive told BBC News NI's Mark Simpson that the area is "a mixed community" and the protest was "not racist".

"A woman told me the place should be meant for locals, she said there are a lot of local elderly and disabled people living in the area who have been on the housing waiting list for about nine years, so how come I got the house?

"She said it wasn't personally about me, it was about housing.

"She was even asking me if I am disabled and I said I am, but I was wondering why she was asking me this.

"I went through the normal channels of getting the premises."

Mr Abiona, who is active in race relations in Northern Ireland and serves in key roles in the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities and the Nigerian Association, said he believed he was being targeted because he is black.

"It is not about me being elderly or local - it is about intimidation and discrimination," he said.

"A housing officer told me they were trying to resolve it, but with what was written on the banner I don't think I will be able to move in there.

"The safety of my son comes first. His mother told me she would not allow him to come and visit me there.

"My son comes first, so I'm not going to go back to the premises."

A resident of Glenluce Drive told BBC News NI that the protest was "not racist" and was about "a bungalow equipped for pensioners and disabled".

"They cannot put families into them," she said.

"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."

Police removed the banners on Wednesday morning. A spokesman said: "Enquiries into the incident are ongoing."

Liam Kinney of the Housing Executive agreed the racist issue was "becoming slightly worrying in Belfast over the past few months".

"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," he told the BBC.

"We have been working with local communities, local politicians, residents groups, police and whoever else we think could make an influence.

"But we need the support of everyone out there who can help on us this because it's not right and it should stop."

He said the Housing Executive was "actively working with local representatives and agencies to try to resolve the issue".

'Points system'

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin said on Twitter: "The racist intimidation of Michael Abiona at the house allocated to him in east Belfast is shameful and must be opposed and condemned by everyone."

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said "people must not take the law into their own hands".

"People genuinely ask me why are people from other countries able to get houses much quicker, but I point out to them that we have a points system for social housing that works reasonably well," he said.

"It's not allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Some people are on the waiting list for years and they are annoyed that they don't seem to get any offers made to them, but it's not right for anybody to be singled out because of the colour of their skin, their religion or political views."

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said it was "racist intimidation", and called on the Northern Ireland Executive to publish its race relations strategy.

"Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Race hate crime has soared over the past year," said the South Belfast MP.

"We must not allow ourselves to become sanitised to the despicableness of racism - there should never be a culture here that dilutes racism or attempts to qualify it.

"The people who intimidated Mr Abiona from his home are not defenders of human rights, as their banners attempt to portray."

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