Friday, August 26, 2011

Essex council set for ethnic cleansing at Dale Farm

Tensions are mounting as the August 31 deadline for the forced eviction of up to 400 Travelling people from their homes in Basildon, Essex draws near. Campaigners are appealing for a mass attendance at Camp Constant from tomorrow.

The aim is to show support for the 86 beleaguered families, with 100 children between them, who have been living there peacefully for many years. Ranged against them are Tony Ball, Conservative leader of Basildon Council in Essex, communities minister Eric Pickles, the Essex police and notorious bailiffs Constant & Co. In a joint council and police eviction, the Home Office will be paying half the £9.5m bill.

On the other side of the divide are the nearly 400 Gypsies who have the support of the Gypsy Council, human rights campaigners including Liberal peer Lord Avebury, Amnesty International, as well as many other groups and organisations.

The entire area is due to be sealed off while the police-backed bailiffs do their worst. Oak Road, which runs through the Dale Farm site is to be sealed off at both ends except for access to travellers’ homes. Further closures and no-stopping zones are being introduced. Speed restrictions are planned for the adjacent A127 for up to 18 months while the eviction operation takes place.

There are clear signs that Constant & Co, backed by the Essex constabulary and cheered on by local racists and British National Party members, will have their gloves off during the operation. As Gypsy rights activist Grattan Puxon has warned in the Travellers’ Times:

“A dirty, neo-fascist wave, a tsunami of social exclusion is to break over the peaceful Dale Farm community, smashing up lives and drowning the hopes of another generation of Traveller children, presently attending local schools... the ugliest yet act of ethnic-cleansing by a British local authority against an outpost of Europe's nascent Roma nation.”

At a time of huge cuts, when Essex county council is axing 450 jobs and 12 youth centres, why has this council chosen to spend an astronomical £18 million to evict the Gypsy families who have lived peacefully on their site for many years?

It’s clear that Conservatives in Essex feel challenged by rising support for the British National Party shown in recent elections. In Basildon alone 4,000 voters backed the BNP in the last election. You only need to read the comments on the local paper’s website to get a feel for the racist hatred for travelling people. There are those who think that the council’s draconian measures are not extreme enough: “Half a dozen large army bulldozers and a platoon of SAS and it will all be over in half hour”, says one reader.

Last-ditch efforts are being made to avoid the rapidly looming confrontation. Jerzerca Tigani from Amnesty International has pleaded that “the authorities must ensure that their actions do not break international law. They should instead talk to the residents at Dale Farm and reach a negotiated solution.”

Some are taking heart from a victory by a Gypsy who has just won a planning appeal by Basildon. The government inspector reminded the council that it had a duty to provide 62 new pitches for homeless Travellers by the end of this year. But council leader Ball has already shrugged off the inspector’s recommendations in anticipation of the Coalition’s Localism Bill coming into force.

There can be no doubt that the confrontation at Dale Farm, which has been years in the making, is more than an nasty squabble between a Conservative local council and travelling people. It has the makings of a major, military-style, operation backed by local and national state forces against a vulnerable group of people who seek only to live in their traditional way.

We have been here before! Mainstream political leaders of all parties seeking to outflank their rivals on the right in ethnic cleansing will stop at nothing. By doing so, they will open the door to even more sinister forces.

Corinna Lotz

AWTW secretary

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

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