Thursday, March 17, 2011



Wednesday 16 March 2011 16.05 GMT

After nearly 10 years of legal battles, the largest eviction in recent history is about to begin. Basildon council in Essex has voted to force more than 80 Gypsy and Traveller families to leave their homes in Dale Farm, and in about a month's time the demolition of their homes will commence. The bailiff company selected by the council to enforce the eviction is notorious among the Traveller community for its methods, and I believe the eviction is likely to be brutal.

n 2008, a British high court ruled against the eviction, on the grounds of "unacceptable discrimination against Travellers". But David Cameron criticised the previous government for letting the site "mushroom in size", and believes that to ensure "fairness" the operation should now go ahead.

Half of the residents of Dale Farm live legally on the well-manicured plots, the other half illegally occupy official green-belt land. The Travellers were unaware that the land was green belt when they bought it in 2001; to them it was simply a disused scrapyard, strewn with vehicles and rubbish. Over the past 10 years they have turned the plot into a fully functioning community complete with amenities, a chapel and an education/youth club.

More than 80 children from the site currently attend school, while a significant number have completed primary education during their stay. We Gypsies and Travellers don't consider education a right, we consider it a privilege – a privilege that for the children will disappear, along with their homes, when the bulldozers appear.

The council is clearly in a difficult position: it can't or won't grant permission for the families to stay on the green-belt land, but uprooting them will cost Basildon council alone an estimated £8m, and that's not including the policing costs for the operation.

Dale Farm residents say they will leave the land of their own accord, in order to avoid the horrific eviction that looms over them, but they need somewhere to go. The government is obliged under international law to offer the Travellers a suitable alternative. In the eyes of the law, separating the community and forcing them into houses is a suitable option; in the eyes of the Travellers, such a change in their lives is simply unfathomable.

If the current site is completely out of the question, the sensible solution would surely be to invest some of the staggering eviction costs into developing a legal site for the Travellers. The government-run Homes and Communities Agency has identified a plot of land suitable for the Travellers to inhabit. The families would happily move there, but this peaceful solution requires Basildon council to grant planning permission on the new plot, which it is simply not willing to do.

Sadly the future is not bright for Gypsies and Travellers trying to uphold their culture in this country. Any progress made under the last government is now being reversed, and the people of Dale Farm are simply victims of marginalisation.

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