“Sleepless nights”: Dale Farm residents live in fear of forced eviction

After a demonstration to stop the forced eviction at Dale Farm ©Susan Craig-Greene, the Advocacy Project

By Kartik Raj, Amnesty International’s UK campaigner

On Saturday, an Amnesty colleague and I visited the Irish Traveller site at Dale Farm, down a bumpy farm road outside Basildon in Essex. Hundreds of residents and supporters marched peacefully through the village of Cray’s Hill calling on Basildon Council to stop its planned forced eviction of 86 families from their homes.

Many children from Dale Farm were out on the march, taking turns on a megaphone to chant “Save Dale Farm”. One freckled, red-headed little boy was carrying a placard that seemed larger than him!

Many women we spoke to when we visited the site in April and May compared their experiences living in car parks, on common ground, and in fields, for a few months at a time to that of their children and grandchildren, who have been able to attend one primary school continuously.

For many families, this is the first generation that has completed primary school and is literate. Two sisters, in their 60s and 70s, told us how proud they were of their grandchildren having learned to read and write at school, something neither one of them had the opportunity to do.

As the march approached Cray’s Hill primary school, the children stood at the gate asking where they would go to school in a week’s time.

Catherine, a 70 year-old woman with serious medical illnesses, told us that she had lived through another forced eviction that still weighed on her mind. The uncertainty and anxiety of an eviction on the horizon were all too obvious as she told us: “It’s an awful stress. You don’t know what will happen. You don’t sleep at night. You’re kind of giving up on yourself.”

Christina (not her real name) invited us into her caravan, and told us that one of her three sons regularly wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, afraid that the bailiffs are coming to evict them.

Three generations of a family in their kitchen at Dale Farm ©Susan Craig-Greene, Advocacy Project

Talking to us while making tea, watching her toddler and covering her caravan upholstery, she said, “At the end of the day, this is our home. We have to live somewhere. Imagine you get home tonight and the government tells you you have to be gone by the morning.”

Many Dale Farm residents were visibly upset as volunteers read out the words of a threatening letter they had received a day before our last visit in May. The letter called them “trash”, “dirt” and “filth,” and ended with a two word threat: “Gypsies out”.

Many Travellers were anxious about the widespread prejudice and harassment they face, and whether they would be able to find somewhere safe to live and send their children to school.

Housing is a human right. It helps ensure that children can go to school, and that people can get the healthcare they need. If Traveller families have stable places to pitch their caravans and call home, the children can attend school, pregnant women and young children can get regular healthcare, the seriously ill can get proper medical attention, and families can provide each other with the support they rely on.

Basildon Council isn’t offering any Travellers other sites in the area and is offering only some residents “bricks and mortar” council housing. The eviction, set to begin on 19 September, would leave many residents with nowhere to go.

Laws in place since the 1990s mean that Travellers can’t stop lawfully on “the side of the road”, yet at the same time don’t require councils to provide them with sites. Christina put it starkly: “They won’t leave us to travel around. They won’t leave us to settle down. What are we to do?”

As the march made its way up the road approaching Dale Farm on Saturday afternoon, a young woman who lived there asked me, “Are you here with us?”

Her expression of disbelief suggested that she couldn’t get her head around the idea that there were hundreds of people standing with her in the belief that the human rights of Travellers should be respected.

Thousands of Amnesty’s supporters around the world have written to Basildon Council and the UK government calling for a stop to the eviction, and demanding that the authorities comply with international law. UN experts, UN committees, Council of Europe officials, MPs, Lords, religious leaders and others have made similar calls.

The world has expressed its concern about the human rights violation about to occur. It is now time for Basildon Council to listen.

Learn more about the Travellers of Dale Farm at Amnesty UK and take action now to stop the eviction.

More
information available here about the leadup to the eviction.

Posted in Slums/Housing | 7 Comments

  1. Tom says:

    This is ridiculous. Half of this camp was illegally built on green-belt land, those living there have to abide by planning laws just as all British citizens do. Furthermore, the idea bailiffs will appear in the middle of the night is just wrong. Bailiffs have made it clear that eviction will happen on the 19th Sept. It’s not about race or preserving cultural groups, or ethnic cleansing as some claim, otherwise the whole camp would have been cleared.

  2. Al says:

    Your opinion is very one sided. At the end of the day they have broken the law. The law of the land if for everyone to obey, sadly you cannot pick and choose who can build illegally and who cannot.

  3. Helle Jacobsen says:

    Stop the eviction

  4. andrew evans says:

    they have broken the law and should be evicted.

  5. Stan Dwellback says:

    The Gypsies haven’t had one day’s notice that they have to move – they have had 10 yrs knowing that they were living there illegally. The ones having stress and sleepless nights are those in the settled communities nearby. We saw what the Gypsies were really like when they placed gas canisters at their boundary, covering them with petrol and waving cigarette lighters around. “Gypsies Out” is not a threat – it’s an instruction from the courts. “I’m gonna kill you” – that’s a threat – just ask one of their neighbours!

  6. barney says:

    I agree if the travellers are staying in the area and staying temporarily as travelling people do; a lot have been there for years, not travelling very much ay! I dont think there is much in the way of poverty coming to the evicted, as there appears to be quite a lot of property ;ie houses owned in ireland by these people, which beggers the belief that they like life on the open road. As an after thought, I have to get planning permission for a shed in my back garden!

  7. member of Amnesty International says:

    As a member of Amnesty International I am not happy that you are supporting the Dale Farm residents

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