Earlier this week, the SKWAWKBOX covered the ‘debate‘ that took place in the House of Commons on Monday, in which one MP after another – primarily Tories but with a handful of Labour – including many from the West Midlands, made generalised slurs against the Gypsy Traveller community. The Romanichal is the community’s own name for itself.
It was a spectacle that brought shame on the MPs involved – only a small number stood up to object to the ‘othering’ and to defend a community that has suffered hideous bigotry and persecution for hundreds of years, including proscription for centuries in Britain. But it seems that the shame was not enough for some.
The Birmingham Mail has carried news of government discussions to ban all groups of Travellers from the entire West Midlands if they make ‘illegal encampments’:
The sub-heading of the article states:
Government to meet West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner to discuss tough measures against minority of anti-social Travellers.
However, a knowledge of the facts makes this decision look more like NIMBY-pleasing racism than a targeted action against criminals.
First of all, the article makes clear that MPs and others are complaining that local councils can already ban Travellers – but are complaining that they can’t force them far enough away.
Secondly and more importantly, as the SKWAWKBOX’s interviews with Roma leaders have shown, the entire system is set up to force Travellers to camp illegally. Legal sites are in extremely short supply – and the only proof of Traveller status that the law accepts for planning application purposes requires illegality. Roma campaigner Richard Bennett explained this to the SKWAWKBOX:
Under the law, to get planning permission just to put concrete slabs for hard standing on a piece of land you own, you have to prove you’re Travellers – and do you know the only proof the law accepts? Proof of evictions – so the law locks Travellers into a cycle where their only chance of getting planning permission to live according to their culture [as opposed to forsaking it and just living in a house] is to camp illegally and be evicted.
This means a Traveller family wishing to maintain a lifestyle in keeping with their culture must camp illegally in order to have even a chance of obtaining planning permission just to lay a concrete slab to create hard-standing for a caravan.
And even then, it’s an extremely slim chance – eighty-one percent of Traveller planning applications are refused and of the remaining nineteen percent over ninety-nine percent are only approved on appeal.
A system set up to criminalise and ‘other’ an ethnic group and – if the government accommodates the wishes of NIMBY racists – to ban them from an entire region.
That sounds like apartheid – just try substituting any other ethnic group for Travellers and see how it looks.
Read here for a detailed account by a Roma campaigner of the frankly awful daily realities faced by the Traveller community and here for an example of Tory bigotry against Travellers and its human cost.
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