Defend travellers – stop ethnic cleansing

‘About 100 riot police and 40 bailiffs arrived at 8am on 26 January at Meadowlands, near Chelmsford. They smashed and kicked everything up. My two-year-old was hysterical. I was pregnant with my fourth child...They towed my three-bedroom mobile home off the site and put it on the road...a few days later it was set alight. All the children’s toys and clothes were in there. I’ve lost everything. My mother is a Romany Gypsy and my father’s an Irish Traveller.’

Over the summer, 26 Roma Gypsies and Travellers were evicted from the Paynes Lane site, also in Essex. 700 Roma living at Dale Farm near Basildon face eviction next May. It is nothing less than ethnic cleansing. The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act abolished the statutory duty on local authorities to provide sites for Roma and Travellers. Even before the Act, many local authorities had closed down sites in response to anti-Roma hostility. Speaking on radio in 1999 when he was Labour’s Home Secretary, Jack Straw said there was ‘too much toleration of travellers, and we want to see the police and local authorities cracking down’ on those ‘living on the margins of society’.

The June 2004 election of three BNP councillors in Epping Forest marked an intensification of racism against the traveller community in Essex. In its manifesto, the BNP explicitly targeted Roma: ‘BNP councillors will press for the power to immediately evict Travellers/Gypsies from private or council lands.’ Throughout Europe, Romany and travelling communities are increasingly persecuted and attacked. The same thing is happening here.

Laurie Mitchell

FRFI 181 October / November 2004


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