Chinese homes are targets of hate crime in Ireland Attacks on Asians rose after IRA cease-fire in '94

June 30, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- A pause in the sectarian violence between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland has brought a small, vulnerable Chinese community here under fierce pressure from both sides.

Police are investigating more than two dozen attacks this year by hooded intruders who break into the homes of Chinese families late at night to terrorize and to steal.

Leaders of the Chinese community report a parallel rise in harassment since a cease-fire between warring Catholic and Protestant terrorists took effect in the fall of 1994 -- a truce the Irish Republican Army ended in February in mainland Britain but has not yet broken here.

"Before the cease-fire, tensions between the two groups were very high. Afterward -- as if they had nothing else to do -- it has been much worse for minorities," said Patrick Yu at the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities.

With around 8,000 members, the Chinese community is the largest non-Irish group in a province living now in restive peace after 25 years of terrorist warfare.

The Chinese, who began arriving around 1962, make up about half of the small -- 1.5 percent -- minority ethnic community in the six-county British province.

As a group, the Chinese cast a shadow larger than their numbers in a disputed land historically more remarkable for its feuds than its food. It would be hard today to find even a small town in Northern Ireland without its Main Street take-out Chinese restaurant. Virtually every Chinese family is involved in the restaurant business, said Yu, an officer of the Chinese Welfare Association in Belfast.

These "take-aways" sell food cheap and stay open late. Their owners often do not speak English fluently. Thus, almost inevitably, the restaurants are well-known stopping places -- and targets -- for young, racist hooligans and hungry late-night drunks.

Early this year, however, organized criminals began targeting restaurant owners when they returned home, said Detective Chief Inspector Charlie McCracken, head of a police task force created to catch the crooks. Since January, there have been 26 late-night attacks on Chinese businessmen at their homes, 11 with violence or the threat of violence.

McCracken said that in a typical attack, hooded and gloved intruders burst into a house late at night, tie up the women and children and wait for the man to return home.

"They'll attack the man as soon as he arrives with sticks, cudgels, chair legs, and they'll threaten to harm the children if they don't tell where the money is," McCracken said.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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