Hundreds, including a Member of the European Parliament, political and human rights groups and supporters from the local area, all over the UK and beyond marched from Wickford Station to Dale Farm on Saturday in solidarity with the beleaguered residents of the former scrapyard, how home to 100 families under threat of eviction by Basildon Council.
The campaign to save Dale Farm, initially supported by local church groups and friends of the community and long given the vocal backing of figures such as Lord Avebury and Vanessa Redgrave, has been receiving messages of solidarity from Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia, with supporters travelling from mainland Europe to stay at Camp Constant, a resistance and solidarity camp on the site. Residents were visited last week by Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood and Bishop Stephen Cottrell of the Diocese of Chelmsford, and residents have outspoken support from the Jewish community. Protests are planned at British Embassies in Berlin and Dublin to show support to the families facing eviction.
Kathleen McCarthy, a resident of Dale Farm, said, ‘there are people here from all over the world, I just met a girl from America who supports us. It’s great to know people are listening, and people are hearing our voices, even if our own Government isn’t.’
Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England, joined the march and spoke afterwards as supporters enjoyed lunch and a cup of tea with residents:
‘Their rights are not just for Traveller families to have a home, and for their children to have an education. But for their culture to be respected. To be able to live according to the Traveller lifestyle…. As a Member of the European Parliament I am deeply ashamed that action here in this community is bringing international opprobrium against our country. That Britain’s international reputation for tolerance, fairness and justice is being damaged at what may happen next. And that the time to listen to the criticism is now not later.’
Kartik Raj, speaking on behalf of Amnesty International, which recently sent out an Urgent Action to its members on behalf of Dale Farm, said, ‘hundreds of people are writing to Basildon Council from all over the world to express their horror at the evictions.’
The South East Region Trades Union Congress (SERTUC), No Borders, No One Is Illegal, No Sweat, and Unite Against Fascism also sent representatives who spoke out against the eviction.
International pressure on the British Government is growing, with concern expressed by two different UN Special Rapporteurs, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination and the Council of Europe, and news of the planned UN visit later in September. Mr Howitt has repeatedly called for the British Government to release the Council of Europe report, to no avail. Next week the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna will debate the evictions.
The UN has spoken out strongly against the evictions, with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination writing several times to the UK government expressing concern and calling for protection of the human rights of the families. A statement of the 2nd September called on the UK Government to suspend the planned eviction, which would disproportionately affect the lives of the Gypsy and Traveller families, particularly women, children and older people.
Dale Farm is home to the largest Traveller community in the UK, a former scrapyard which was purchased by the community thirty years ago. The residents of Dale Farm have pledged to leave if alternate sites can be found, and two planning applications have been lodged which are due to be heard in October. 90% of Gypsy and Traveller planning applications are turned down, compared with 20% overall. Government inspectors have noted that Basildon has a “dire shortage” of Gypsy and Traveller sites, and have placed pressure on the Council to provide 62 pitches. Because no alternative sites have been approved, families will be forced to stay at Dale Farm or become homeless.
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– The £18 million cost of the eviction includes £10 million for policing- £6 million of which was granted by the Home Office
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