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Time to fight for Travellers

United Kingdom

The Dale Farm eviction in 2011. Photo reproduced with permission from the Traveller Solidarity Network.

One year ago, the violent eviction at Dale Farm, near Basildon, Essex, prompted the largest mobilization of settled people in support of Travellers ever seen in Britain. But despite this the families were removed on 19 October 2011 and their struggle is not over.

With the prospect of a second eviction looming for those that have resettled nearby, a number of residents are severely depressed, and many are seriously ill. Travellers have the lowest life expectancy of any ethnic group in Britain.

A year to the day since the evictions began, the Traveller Solidarity Network will be protesting at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Billed ‘The eviction to end all evictions,’ activists want to highlight the worsening situation both at Dale Farm and for Travellers and Roma across Britain.

For a brief moment, as activists and residents worked together to try and save the Dale Farm site in 2011 the mainstream media suspended its customary hostility towards the Travellers community.

Local newspapers, however, continue to play on the prejudices and fears of NIMBY (‘not in my back yard’) settled people, adding ‘not another Dale Farm’ to their arsenal of anti-Traveller soundbites. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, joined them last week by ushering in a new policy to avoid a repeat of an eviction that cost £7 million (over $11 million).

Brilliant, we say, but it seems Pickles has got his reasoning all in a pickle. Word on the street is that you can’t go assaulting an ethnic minority with an army of riot police because you don’t agree with the way they live. And it’s not okay to then leave them,  traumatized on the roadside without water or electricity supplies, with nowhere else to go.

What Pickles is concerned about is that the Dale Farm families were able to mount costly legal challenges against their original eviction. What we need he says is faster, unopposed evictions, and less authorization of Traveller and Roma  sites. In other words,  fewer Travellers.

The Dale Farm families had bought the land they lived on, under government guidance, after numerous previous evictions. In the aftermath of last year’s eviction, some were accommodated by relatives on other sites for a short period.

But local councils threaten revocation of a family’s license if extra caravans are present – it’s rather like the the government telling you that your cousins can’t  stay with you for more than a couple of weeks. So the families returned to the road next to the hazardous ruins of their old home.

Much anti-Traveller racism manifests itself as ‘cultural’, focusing on perceived attributes and behaviours of a community. This kind of racism may distance itself from the old-style biological racism, but it’s damaging all the same.

The state violence against a culture and community such as Dale Farm is reiterated every day in the refusal to give planning permission to Traveller sites. Already over half the population of Travellers and Romani Gypsies live against their will in bricks and mortar housing.

The Localism Act of  2011 is exacerbating  the national shortage of nearly 6,000 Traveller pitches nationally by removing the duty on councils to identify sites for this purpose. Instead, the Government now leaves them to set their own targets, a move that has already more than halved the number of planned new pitches. This will further fuel tensions between settled and Traveller communities and increase spending on evictions. Who will profit? Companies like Constant & Co, the firm of bailiffs that made £2 million ($3 million) from evicting Dale Farm.

In some cases, the Act allows for Travellers to be evicted from land they have bought before their application for planning permission has even been heard. It also puts pressure on housing needed by settled people.

The Fight For Sites campaign has been launched, calling for a system in which the right to culturally appropriate housing is safeguarded, and racism is not tolerated.

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