Anna Lo MLA said: “The 2014 theme for Community Relations Week will be ‘Building A United Community’. This week has the opportunity to showcase positive projects that are taking place on the ground by many grassroots organisations to promote a shared society and allows us to reflect on our need to do more.
“Refugee Week recognises the contribution that asylum seekers and refugees make to our society. Asylum seekers come to Northern Ireland, often looking for a sanctuary from wars, civil unrest or persecution. However, when settling here, they face many challenges including access to housing, education, English classes for adults and the complex welfare system.
“As we know, the growing diversity of our community has presented many cultural, economic and social benefits. But sadly – when wrongly perceived, diversity brings its challenges; changes within communities have led to some increased tensions, which have manifested themselves in sectarian and racist attacks.
“We need to do more than just condemn these incidents. Work needs to happen in areas where frequent racist incidents occur to promote mutual understanding and challenge sectarian and racist attitudes. We must encourage reporting, support victims in a way which demonstrates care and sensitivity and ensure that perpetrators of hate crimes are brought to justice and face the full weight of the law.
“Society benefits when people can hold open, mixed and multiple identities, can experience different cultures and express their individuality. Refugee Week and Community Relations Week remind us of this.”