The gathering together of different cultures for a cultural celebration in Belfast on Sunday sends a strong message to those with racist attitudes, the Equality Commission’s chief has said.
Michael Wardlow told the thousands of visitors in the city’s Botanic Gardens for the annual Mela festival that while racism is still very much a reality in Northern Ireland, events like this show the true spirit of the majority of people here.
Last week racist slogans were daubed on the walls and door of a house in which two Nigerian men were living in the city.
Mr Wardlow said it is a stark reminder of the continued presence of racism in society here.
He said: “An event like Mela sends a strong message that the true spirit of most people in Northern Ireland is welcoming and inclusive and that this type of behaviour is viewed as repulsive and unacceptable.”
“The Commission works to promote good race relations and greater racial equality. We challenge discrimination by supporting people to take complaints to court or tribunal. We also provide advice and information for employers and businesses to help them comply with the law and, where necessary, we work to encourage the strengthening of race laws and to ensure that race equality considerations are embedded in public policy making and service delivery.”
The most recent census figures show that 18 in every thousand people living in Northern Ireland is part of a minority ethnic group.
Botanic Gardens in the south of the city was transformed into an exotic world of music, dance, fashion and food on Sunday for the celebration, which takes its name from a word meaning ‘to meet’.
Authentic fabrics, fantasy props and artefacts were flown in from India especially for the event, organised by ArtsEkta.
There were more than 30 food stalls featuring flavours from around the world, dance displays from different cultures and even an oasis of calm where visitors could avail of massages.
Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann praised the organisers of the festival and all those who took part.
Mr Bell said: “As a firm favourite and fixture in Belfast, it continues to create more energy and optimism with every passing year. It shows the world that Belfast is a city of diversity, a city of welcome and one that knows how to celebrate.”
Ms McCann said: “The Executive is committed to improving community relations and continuing the journey towards a more united and shared society. Mela is a fantastic example of what can be achieved through collaboration and mutual respect.