France may have hit the headlines in recent weeks with its official state-sanctioned persecution of Roma, Gypsies and Travellers, but the UK has had it own version too - the long-running saga of the Dale farm community in Essex. Here is the latest news from there:
More than 20 families living in chalets, mobile-homes and caravans at Hovefields Drive, nearby the largest Romani Gypsy and Irish Traveller community in the United Kingdom, Dale Farm, Essex County, are facing imminent forced eviction.
The families received a 28-day notice issued by Basildon District Council to vacate their pitches and leave by 31 August or otherwise face eviction by the bailiff Company Constant and Co. Six families were evicted from Hovefields Drive community on 29 June, when the bailiff company, acting as agents of the Basildon Council, arrived at the site in the early hours of the day accompanied by Essex police officers and gave occupants one hour to pack up and leave. Heavy digger machines dig up the six plots where there was no-one living at the time as the families were travelling.
No previous notice of this work had been given and a utility unit used as a lavatory was demolished. Children were able to move freely about the sites shortly before the utility was demolished by a heavy digger. Health and safety regulations were totally ignored during the eviction operation and the police did nothing to guarantee compliance with human rights law although a meeting between senior police officers, the Dale Farm Housing Association and the Essex Human Rights Clinic had taken days before the eviction.
Those families who were travelling cannot return to their plots because Basildon District Council obtained a court injunction that prevent them to do so. No alternative accommodation was offered, no compensation for the destruction of utilities was paid, and these families are now homeless.
In the case of Dale Farm, approximately 1,000 people have been residing on the estate for more than seven years, including many children. The community has been resisting forced evictions attempts by Basildon District Council since May 2005 when it voted to clear a large part of the settlement. Although all residents hold land ownership titles, sections of the site had no planning permission and Basildon Council has subsequently refused all attempts to regularise the situation, preferring the enforcement option.
In March 2010 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued a letter urging the UK Government and its institutions to consider suspending any planned eviction until an adequate solution is achieved, with the meaningful participation of the community to guarantee protection of their housing rights, including the provision of adequate alternative accommodation. Basildon Council has offered nothing but brick and mortar houses or apartments, which are unsuitable for Gypsies and Travellers. Furthermore, the Council has refused to engage in conversations with the community.
The new UK Coalition Government has cancelled the central funding of much-needed new caravan parks for nomadic Gypsies and Travellers and removed the requirement to designate land for their accommodation. Many thousands of Gypsy families are thus forced to live illegally on land they have purchased but where they have been denied through strict planning laws to set up permanent homes. Thus another generation of Gypsies and Travellers are in danger of losing the chance of a regular education, while the old and the sick are deprived of the care and medical attention.
The wishes of the residents are to remain where it is and not to be split up. There is a strong communal ethic, with the elderly being cared for by the younger generation and small children protected. Gypsies and Travellers feel that having lost the possibility to follow the old nomadic life-style, it is essential to the preservation of their culture and ethnicity to keep Dale Farm and Hovefields communities intact. In line with the Housing Act 1996, it is incumbent on the BDC to consider the claim of the occupants to not be evicted as the families threatened with forced removal have no place to go.
The community is therefore seeking your support to urge the Basildon Council to:
- Put on hold the imminent forced eviction of Hovefields community and the planned eviction of Dale Farm, and engage in meaningful consultation discussions with the residents and their representatives for the purpose of seeking to achieve an amicable solution;
- Consider both the possibility of a) issuing planning permission to allow their permanent residence on their present properties; or b) utilising the ¤ 4 million set aside for the eviction to provide an alternative area to which the residents can relocate;
- Respect and protect the housing, property and family rights of the Gypsy and Traveller communities, in particular the rights of the children.
Please send an appeal letter by e-mail or fax to the addresses listed below requesting the Basildon Council to stop the eviction. Model letter and further background information available - copy/amend/write your on version.
Basildon District Council
Mr. Bala Mahendran, Chief Executive
St. Martins Sq, Basildon, SS14 1DL, UK
Tel:+44 1268 533333
Department for Communities and Local Government
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles
London SW1E 5DU
Commission for Equalities and Human Rights
Mr. Sean Risdale
3 More London, Riverside Tooley Street
London, SE1 2RG
Tel: +44.20 3117 0235
Essex Human Rights Clinic
Dale Farm Housing Association