Socialist Worker

Travellers resist Tory assault on their rights

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2218

Protesters gathered outside the French embassy in London last Saturday to demonstrate against president Nicholas Sarkozy’s recent expulsion of Roma communities from the country.

The action was part of a day of protests across Europe that saw tens of thousands take to the streets in solidarity with Roma people (see report of the French protests below).

“Enough is enough,” said Florence Joelle—a French citizen living in London who came to the protest.

“When governments start targeting people simply because they belong to an ethnic group, we’re in trouble.”

The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB) organised the protest. Mairead Moore from ITMB told Socialist Worker, “We’re here to show solidarity with the Roma in France.

“You don’t have to look too far back in history to see where this kind of thing leads to.

“Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are protected under race relations legislation but there are no human rights for us.

“Why do governments sign up to human rights legislation if they don’t believe in it?”

Tracy Sherlock is also from the ITMB. “We’re being treated like animals,” she told Socialist Worker. “It’s like people think we don’t have a right to live here.

“My family is Irish but I was born and raised in this country.The worst thing about being a Traveller is being looked at like I’m a piece of dirt.

“The media paints us all with one brush, saying we all steal.”

Many protesters were also there to draw attention to the plight of Traveller communities in Britain—particularly the attacks faced by those living at Dale Farm in Essex.

The Traveller community there is the largest in Britain, bringing together more than 1,000 people.

It has existed since the 1970s but Tory-run Basildon district council is threatening to evict all the families after they lost a legal challenge to stay last year.

The council is also planning to use bailiffs to evict eight Gypsy families in Wickford, Essex.

A human rights eviction watch at the site began on Monday.

Many people worry that the planned eviction could be the start of bigger attacks on Travellers in Britain.

The Tories have already scrapped Labour’s Regional Strategies plan that set targets for councils to provide land for Travellers.

The government withdrew £30 million of funding for Gypsy and Traveller sites in May.

Violet Cannon, a Gypsy from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, joined Saturday’s protest.

“The coalition government is undoing so much work that we’ve done,” she told Socialist Worker.

“They have already made things worse for us.

“There are 8,000 Gypsies in Doncaster. We might seem invisible, but councils can’t just disregard us.

“If any other ethnic group was treated like we are then there would be an uproar. But because we’re Gypsies it’s swept under the carpet.”

Supporters of Travellers’ rights who came to the protest had similar concerns. “I’m not sure how big this is on the political agenda,” said Alison Clarke.

“The media isn’t covering it properly and we need to draw more attention to it.

“The government is systematically targeting Travellers at Dale Farm. I wonder if the eviction will be the start of a creeping campaign against travellers. We have to take a stand.”

Ulrike Schmidt, a volunteer with Amnesty International, agreed.

“Roma have lived in Europe for over 1,000 years and have been periodically attacked whenever scapegoats were needed,” she told Socialist Worker. “We can’t take that lying down.

“European Union citizens have been deported from France simply because of their ethnic origin. It’s outrageous. This is the 21st century—we should have learnt from the 20th.”

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