Traveller community at Dale Farm evicted

OHCHR Regional Office for Europe is concerned about collective forced evictions of Roma and Travellers which are increasingly becoming an openly acknowledged policy of choice in some European countries. “In the past, we saw such developments mainly in Central and Eastern Europe and on the level of local authorities,” said Jan Jařab, the OHCHR Regional Representative for Europe, in a meeting with European Roma Grassroots Organisations. “Now it is happening in Western Europe.”

In March 2010, High Commissioner Pillay visited the Via Marchetti shantytown near Rome. Many of its Bosnian Roma residents had been living in Italy since the early 1990s. Some have been allowed to stay on Italian territory following a settlement before the European Court of Human Rights. The High Commissioner expressed her concerns about the security-focused evictions policy of the Italian authorities. However, the trend continued. In June 2011 the forced eviction at Via Marchetti was carried out, just like many others before it.

In France, Roma migrants from Eastern Europe became the target of a campaign of forced evictions followed by collective forced return to their countries of origin in the autumn of 2010. The crackdown was launched by President Sarkozy himself following an incident in Grenoble which involved French Gens de Voyage, not Eastern European Roma. The harsh policy drew widespread criticism from the European Commission, the Catholic Church and a range of French civil society stakeholders.

At the largest Irish Traveller site in the United Kingdom, Dale Farm in Essex, about a third of the community – some 86 families of Irish Travellers, who are UK citizens – were subjected to eviction in October. Although they owned the land, they did not receive permissions from the planning authorities to reside there. The Dale Farm residents had resisted the eviction through legal action and managed to stop over-enforcement by the authorities, but in the end they lost the legal battle.

OHCHR Regional Office for Europe followed the developments at Dale Farm. On 5 July, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, and the Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsak, called on the UK Government to find a peaceful and appropriate solution and adequate alternative housing for the families. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination addressed the issue in its Concluding Observations on the UK on 2 September, expressing its “deep regret at the insistence of authorities in the United Kingdom to proceed with the eviction of Gypsy and Traveller families at the Dale Farm in Essex before providing culturally appropriate alternative accommodation to them”.

However, the authorities rejected all proposals for compromise solutions and went ahead with the forced eviction – with full support of the British Government. According to the BBC, the Government committed huge sums (in the millions of pounds) to the massive eviction operation, and Prime Minister Cameron publicly expressed his support for it. A statement by the national human rights institution, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, placed the plight of the Travellers at Dale Farm in the broader context of reduced access to Traveller sites across the United Kingdom.

28 October 2011

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