My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding to be Bulldozed?

Eviction cost already skyrocketing as groups announce human rights shield

Photo: Children's artwork at Dale FarmDale Farm, Europe’s largest Traveller community, and one featured in the TV series ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, faces imminent eviction: Traveller representatives have been told that 28 days notice of eviction will be served on them on 14 March. Dale Farm is a former scrapyard in Basildon, and is owned by the Travellers.  It consists of 100 family plots, half of which are set to be demolished.

In response, human rights groups have announced that they will be setting up a full-scale human rights monitoring camp at Dale Farm, before the eviction notice expires on 9 April.  Hundreds of activists have pledged to form a human shield around the site to prevent bulldozers from demolishing homes.

Costs for the planned eviction are already skyrocketing. Basildon District Council has set aside 8 million pounds for the eviction itself and estimates that another 10 million pounds will be required. Their application to have the Home Office foot the bill has just been turned down. Taxpayers have already contributed £2.5 million to the Council’s legal and other related costs.

Ironically, the eviction costs are being blamed as one of the reasons why Basildon Council is controversially selling off playing fields in the green belt, and allowing developers to build on them to increase their value. The Council also looks set to announce a bank loan to cover the eviction bill at a special council meeting on March 14th. The skyrocketing costs are coming at a time when as many as 100 Basildon Council jobs are likely to be axed to help the borough cope with budget cuts which will leave it £2.3million short. Basildon is
also cutting £505,000 to disabled services.

“Dale Farm residents are willing to move, at no cost to Basildon, but need the Council to identify suitable land,” said Richard Sheridan, chair of the Gypsy Council. However this seems increasingly unlikely, as Council leader Tony Ball has promised to resign if the Travellers are not evicted before the 5 May council elections. There is an obligation under international law for government to find suitable alternative accommodation for those being forcibly evicted.

“When we can find £18 million to evict families from their own land but can’t find the funds to keep nurseries, libraries and youth centres open, something has gone terribly wrong,” said Natalie Fox from Dale Farm Solidarity. The group is organising human rights monitors to stay at Dale Farm should their be an eviction.  She called the eviction “ethnic cleansing”, noting that 90% of traveller planning applications are initially rejected compared to 20% overall.

The eviction comes at a time of increased repression of Romani and Traveller communities in France and Italy.  The eviction, which is expected to last up to three weeks will drive many Travellers back onto the road and their children will be forced to leave school.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights stated that ‘the practice of forced eviction constitutes a gross violation of human rights’. They went on to say that ‘to be persistently threatened or actually victimized by the act of forced eviction from one’s home or land is surely one of the most supreme injustices any individual, family, household or community can face’.

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