#DaleFarm: a community with nowhere to go by Roxy Freeman
On Tuesday night I fell asleep with a heavy heart after hearing the news that the clearance at Dale Farm was likely to start the following morning. I hoped that, overnight, common sense would prevail and a forced eviction would not take place, but I awoke to the inevitable sight of riot police storming the camp at dawn.
For the residents of Dale Farm, and Gypsies and Travellers all over the world, their worst nightmare was finally coming true. “They’re breaking the law,” I hear many of you cry, “It’s green belt land.” And you are right: it is an illegal camp, and if we want to live in a civilised society we must all uphold the law, no matter what background or culture we come from.
But the law is not black and white, and these people have certainly been let down by the system. Legal wrangling aside, the reality is that hundreds of human beings are about to be dragged from their homes and forced on to the roads.
My overriding emotions are sadness and confusion. I’m writing this from a caravan on my father’s land: it is parked here legally, but the memories of countless evictions from my childhood are etched in my mind. When I look up I expect to see the men in Day-Glo coats walking towards me and I’m filled with a sense of dread. I know how the Irish Travellers at Dale Farm feel as their life crumbles around them and they have nowhere to go. Hopeless is the only word that can describe it.
Most people in the UK don’t want them at Dale Farm or anywhere else in the country. Over 90% of those who responded to a recent poll believe a forced eviction is the right outcome. I won’t use many of the sensationalist terms being thrown around by some of the activists and Travellers involved in the eviction, and I don’t think this is a case of ethnic cleansing; but do I know first-hand how unaccepted the nomadic lifestyle is today. It doesn’t matter how quiet, clean or law-abiding you are, if you live in a caravan you are scum in the eyes of most of the British population.
Gone are the days when the government actively tried to defuse the tension and hostility between settled and travelling people. Sites are not being created, and budgets given to councils to do so are being used for other “more pressing” issues. It is a case of: “Not on my patch.”
Basildon council leader Tony Ball pulled out of discussions with the Homes and Communities Agency – who offered land to rehouse the Dale Farm families within Essex and within a suitable distance to the children’s school. In my opinion that was because keeping them within his borough would lose votes, and votes seem to be more important than human welfare.
A peaceful solution was never going to be found because Ball apparently believes that Basildon already has more than its quota of Travellers. Swap the word Travellers with any other ethnic group and ask yourself if that is an acceptable position to take.
For the Dale Farm community the tragic reality remains: they have nowhere to go. As they exit the site they will be greeted by blocked-up tracks and barricaded lanes, parks with trenches dug around them, and car parks with a heavy security presence. They’ll end up in laybys, the children will have no chance of an education, and their quality of life will be appalling. But at least they won’t be in Basildon.
People all over the country cheer the enforcement officers on, relishing the scenes of distress and trauma. I ask: whatever happened to human compassion?