Homeless London Roma hit back at harassment

By Grattan Puxon

Westminster City's notorious attempts to ethnically-cleanse Roma from billionaire Park Lane may have begun to unravel after homeless London Roma spoke out at a meeting with a UN special rapporteur and gave evidence to a European Roma Rights Centre team.

|UN rapporteurs

At a come-together organized by the 8 April Movement, Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik heard at first hand of the ill-treatment presently meeted out to Roma from Romania and Bulgaria, who under British law are currently denied full EU citizenship rights.

As some 40 Roma, among them sick and disabled, gathered with their bedding at Marble Arch this week, they were joined by Rolnik and assistant Juana Sotomayor. The pair are on a two-week UK tour which includes seeing the long-besieged but still undefeated Dale Farm Travellers' community in Essex.

Under the noses of a Metropolitan police patrol, which included a plain clothes Romanian police officer, 42-year-old Daniela stepped forward with her bundles to recount how she has existed for the past six weeks, sleeping on the grass. Every night, Daniela told Rolnik, she has been exposed not only to the elements and but to officially-sponsored harrassment.

"I came here for medical treatment," admitted Daniela, who suffers heart and eye ailments, showing a hospital appointments letter. "In Romania I could not get this. There is nothing for Roma." Unfortunately for Daniela, herself unable to read the letter, it made clear that both medications and treatment, including a much-needed eye operation, would have to be paid for. Nothing is free on the NHS to the second-class EU citizens.

Her story and others were recorded by Stefan Luca, from the ERRC in Budapest, which is looking into a possible legal challenge to aspects of Operation Chefornak. He and Crina Morteanu, both from Romania, spent several hours collecting statements and evidence. "I came to see for myself how homeless Roma are living" said Rolnik.

"I understand no alternative is offered them except to be sent back to Romania." Daniela is among some 60 Roma caught up this summer in Westminster City's anti-Roma dragnet. The costly two-year Operation Chefornak, has been mounted by the richest London borough to protect the way of life of it's billionnaires. Already it has resulted in 800 arrests for begging.

According to the Institute of Race Relations, the multi-agency operation is also motivated by a desire to clear the poorest Roma and others away from Westminster's many tourist attractions. Down the road is Buckingham Palace.

Similar to the Travellers at Dale Farm, the Roma in Hyde Park are accused of that most abhorrent crime illegal camping. For this they must be expelled from the borough, a desire voiced in rural Essex by Basildon borough. Indeed, it is one that has echoed down the centuries in respect of Gypsies since Tudor times.

Of course here in London they don't own the land. That belongs to the Crown and possibly the Duke of Westminster. Infact, all that the homeless Roma own are blankets in plastic bags, and these are often taken from them.

During a briefing at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Rolnik heard from campaigners about Basildon's efforts to claim five million euro from Dale Farm residents. The purpose is to force them to pay for the failed 2011 eviction and to seize half the estate's properties. Far from succeeding, it's likely to be proved before a tribunal that Basildon never carried out the work for which it wants to charge the landowners. It likewise neglected to record morgages with the Land Registry, an apparent oversight which may now cost it dear.

An Enviromental Agency inspection has revealed widespread toxic contamination caused when half Dale Farm was dug up to render it uninhabitable. Exposed asbestos has never been removed. That job, involving a massive trucking contract, has a price tag of tens of millions.

Some of London's homeless like the Travellers at Dale Farm, are determined to stand up for their rights. Much to the chagrin of Tory councillor Nickie Aiken, who said recently she hoped they'd take the right message back with them to Romania. She may well feel that yesterday they began to got the wrong message.

4 September 2013

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