A Nigerian man whose home was subjected this week to a racist protest in Belfast said the incident was “like a flashback” to an attempted racial assault on him three years earlier.
Michael Abiona has been forced to give up the house he was allocated in the Knocknagoney area of East Belfast after racists turned up on his doorstep on Tuesday.
Five people including a woman held up banners with the slogans “Houses 4 Local People” and “We need Homes 2” on them.
Abiona said he would not now move into the Northern Ireland Housing Executive home – the region’s public housing authority – because he feared for his three year old son’s safety.
He told the Guardian on Wednesday that when confronted by the demonstrators outside the house it was “like a flashback” to an attack on him my youth in 2011.
“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. They then chased me down the street carrying iron rods and threatened me.
“Only for a good neighbour 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,” he said.
He said he is now considering moving out of East Belfast altogether following this latest incident. “I have to think of the safety of my young son in staying here,” he said.
“I am just worried about the atmosphere after this latest incident. 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. ”
Abiona stressed that he wanted to stay in Northern Ireland and was recently heartened by the thousands that turned up in Belfast last month to protest against the recent upsurge in racist attacks and intimidation.
“Seeing those thousands in the streets of Belfast city centre proved how many good, fair people are out there in Northern Ireland. I might not be able to stay in East Belfast, I have to talk to my son’s mother about this and think about it but I don’t want to leave Northern Ireland if I can.”
He works alongside the Northern Ireland Council For Ethnic Minorities who on Monday launched a comprehensive report on racism and race-hate crimes across Northern Ireland.
The NICEM report found that there are now up to 3 race-hate incidents being reported to the police every day since the start of 2014.
East Belfast MP Naomi Long said she was disgusted by this latest racial incident in her constituency. Long said those behind the posters did not represent East Belfast.
The MP for the centrist Alliance Party added: “This sort of behaviour has no place in our community and does nothing but send out the message that East Belfast is unwelcoming, when we know the opposite is true. I hope the experience has not traumatised this poor family, who should be free to live where they wish without intimidation.
“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.”