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Dale Farm stand tests Roma inclusion policy

By Grattan Puxon

If as now expected the case of Dale Farm is heard by the UK supreme court, the issue at test will be whether a policy of physical exclusion, which has afflicted Gypsy life in Britain for generations, should finally be checked.

Since the siege of Dale Farm commenced, public expenditure on anti-Gypsy measures in England has amounted to well over 200 million euro. That’s more than the entire outlay during the EU Decade of Roma Inclusion.

Thousands have been evicted from their own land; tens of thousands of children denied a chance to go to school. Old folk and the sick left to perish because medical care has been unobtainable in what is supposed to be a welfare state. Not a few of those internal refugees have sought refuge at Dale Farm.

Crays Hill, in Essex, is no distance in today’s world from the Roma ghettoes of Paris and Rome; nor remote even from the big Romani enclaves of Eastern Europe. Travellers from Britain now reach every corner of Europe. Butchered in Romanian villages, ethnically-cleansed from Kosovo and more recently murdered in Hungary and fire-bombed by Italian thugs, Europe’s 12 million Roma are compelled to make common cause. And on the frontline of this growing conflict stands the bastion of Dale Farm.

Here, under relentless attack by hard-right politicians and the gutter press, mothers and fathers continue to speak out against the threat to their homes - believing soon they may get justice in the House of Lords.

They have meanwhile drawn support from many agencies, some never before involved. The Commission for Racial Equality, now CEHR, entered the legal lists at High Court level and is challenging Basildon District Council over its conduct of community relations.

A request to the Government to stop the eviction has been made by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction. COHRE is seeking a meeting with the UK consul to discuss issues raised by Basildon's action, which it says contravenes the Human Rights
Convention.

The Children’s Commissioner, alarmed to learn of Basildon’s intention to unleash bailiffs and riot police on 150 children, has demanded details of its secret clearance operation. What, the commissioner asks, is being done to avoid further traumatizing these already socially excluded minors; and what alternate accommodation are they to be offered.

The plain answer is none. Basildon leader Malcolm Buckley wants Gypsies driven out of the district, in the manner they have been hounded in England for centuries. Once on the road, all will be at the mercy of the bullyboys in blue. Section 62 of the Criminal Justice Act empowers the police to shift Travellers any and every hour of the day.

It’s well documented that the 90 families facing the bulldozing of their homes have nowhere to go. The short-fall in mobile-home park accommodation is chronic, especially in the South of England. Basildon has been told it should provide at least 70 of the needed pitches and could meet this requirement by granting planning permits for the unauthorised yards at Dale Farm.

“That’s the commonsense solution we’d like to see,” says Richard Sheridan, the Gypsy Council president. “Unfortunately, commonsense, not to mention compassion, is in very short supply.”

Compassion however is not lacking among the churches. Both Catholic and Anglican bishops are pressing Malcolm Buckley to stay his hand. At parish level practical help is being offered. A meeting today (28 Feb) at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Wickford is drawing up plans to assist the most vulnerable in the event of a violent eviction by Buckley’s bailiffs.

The proposal is that mothers with small children, including recently born triplets, as well as elderly and sick, should be evacuated to church halls before the commencement of demolition. But while wishing to take people out of danger by such a move, the churches intend in no way to condone the actions of Basildon council.

Rather it is to remind councillors of their obligations and legal duties that volunteers are now coming forward. In the past Wickford town itself has seen some of the most outrageous clearance operations. Caravans have been crushed and even a court injunction ignored in the haste to expel families without mercy from Hovefields Avenue and Gipsy Hill.

At Dale Farm such roughshod and illegal procedures will, it is hoped, be brought to an end.

For a start the presence of hazards such as buried electric cable, cess tanks and asbestos will need to be included in the mandatory danger assessment report. In addition, safety regulations dictate that a perimeter fence must first be erected and persons removed before heavy machinery is allowed onto the site.

Basildon council’s undertaking to the Court of Appeal to consider the welfare impact of a forced removal remains to be fulfilled. It has not yet started to assess the hundred newly submitted homeless applications; and there are the legal torts which may be encountered in attempting to send a bailiff army up a private road which serves Dale Farm House and other established properties on Oak Lane.

The whole process is now been scrutinized by UN Habitat which has approved a mission to London for the purpose. The UN Advisory Group on Forced Evictions, which favours a negotiated settlement and an upgrading of existing homes, would monitor any future direct action to destroy Dale Farm, says Joseph G. Jones, reference person for the mission.

“This in itself is an important milestone,” says Jones, UK representative with the International Roma Union and secretary of the Gypsy Council. “I’m including Dale Farm on the register."

7 March 2009

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