Amnesty International is calling on the UK authorities to stop a planned eviction in Essex that would leave up to 86 Irish Traveller families homeless or without adequate alternative housing.
The local authorities have given the families living at Dale Farm notice to leave the site by 31 August and say they will cut off water and electricity supplies following the eviction.
Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Programme at Amnesty International, said:
“Up to 400 people could be left homeless as a result of the forced eviction which would require them to vacate their plots without an authorised site to which they can take their caravans.
“The authorities must ensure that their actions do not break international law. They should instead talk to the residents of Dale Farm and reach a negotiated solution.”
The eviction notice applies to plots on Dale Farm that the local authority, Basildon Council, says are ‘unauthorised developments’.
Despite the land being owned by Traveller, Roma and Gypsy families, the Irish Travellers have been denied repeated requests to build residential properties there because of local zoning restrictions.
The proposed eviction would leave residents of Dale Farm without alternative culturally adequate accommodation and without access to essential services such as continuous medical treatment for residents with serious illnesses and schooling for the estimated 110 Children's rights living there.
While some residents have been offered ‘bricks and mortar’ housing, many do not want this, and the council has not offered alternative housing to all those residents facing eviction that also meets their cultural needs. In many cases residents fear they will be left homeless.
Many Irish Travellers at Dale Farm have also expressed concern about wider discrimination against their community, and fear they would be unable to find a home that they consider culturally adequate without a negotiated settlement.
Jezerca Tigani said:
“A negotiated settlement is a must and the local authorities should work with those living at Dale Farm towards achieving it. This means genuine consultation, in a manner that seeks meaningful input from Travellers rather than a form-filling exercise. If an eviction is unavoidable, the authorities should ensure adequate alternative housing which allows the Irish Travellers to express their cultural identity.”
Irish Travellers are an ethnic group, originally from Ireland, who are recognised and protected as an ethnic group in English law. Many Irish Travellers live in caravans on unauthorised encampments or on authorised sites. Irish Travellers, along with other Roma, Travellers and Gypsies in the UK, face widespread discrimination and significant obstacles in getting housing, education and health services.
Dale Farm, which is located on land owned by some Traveller, Roma and Gypsy families, is the UK’s largest Traveller settlement. Part of Dale Farm was granted permission for residential use. The part of Dale Farm where up to 400 Irish Traveller residents now face forced eviction, however, has repeatedly been denied planning permission for residential use on the basis of local zoning restrictions.