Sunday, November 18, 2018

Social Cleansing in England

Gypsies and travellers are being “hounded out” of parts of England as a growing number of local authorities impose sweeping bans to prevent them from settling on their land, in what has been described as a form of social cleansing. The latest government figures show there were 22,946 traveller caravans in England in January 2018, of which 87 per cent were on authorised land and 13 per cent on unauthorised land.
Families are being constantly ordered to move on, leading to mental health issues and disruption to children’s development, as a string of councils obtain wide high court injunction orders ban unauthorised encampments across entire towns. Lawyers, MPs and charities accused ministers of “ratcheting up” action against travellers on unauthorised sites without ensuring there was enough supply to address the “chronic shortage” of authorised encampments across the country.
Cuts to local authority funding, as well as an “increasingly hostile” attitude towards travelling communities, have led to an increasing number of councils seeking injunction orders over the past year, campaigners said. Injunctions have been obtained by 22 councils since the first one was granted by Harlow Council in Essex in 2015, with several other local authorities currently pursuing them in the courts.
Michelle Gavin, projects manager at support organisation Friends, Families and Travellers, said the use of injunction orders was ”insidious” and that the biggest issue was the lack of site provision nationally.
“The reason people are facing these blanket ban injunctions is because there are no new sites being built. The majority of people affected by these injunctions have nowhere to live, nowhere authorised on which to encamp, because there’s a chronic shortage across the country.With no sites being built and children being born with emerging need, you are literally waiting for people to die to be able to access any site provision.
Marc Willers, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers who represents gypsies affected by the wide injunctions, said the bans were leading to overcrowding on sites, as well as a deterioration in mental and physical health of traveller communities.
“When they turn up wherever these injunctions have been granted, unbeknownst to them, they will be hit with it and told you can’t park anywhere in this borough or within this area, so they’ve got to move on,” he said. "The problem is, if the next borough has the same injunction in place, they then have to move again, and there’s nowhere else for them to go. They’re being driven into the sea." The injunction orders are usually against “persons unknown”, meaning anyone found to occupy the land may be imprisoned, fined or have their property seized. Mr Willers said the injunction orders were rarely defended due to the broad definition of “persons unknown”, and fear among nomadic communities of coming forward to challenge them. 
He added: “Local authorities think it’s a swift and easy way of ensuring that they can move gypsies and travellers on, and they don’t need to go through a process of assessing the needs of individual families. Our argument against that is that this is inhumane. It’s a perfect storm for gypsies and travellers, and in the meantime some families are being moved from one borough to another, so those which are more humane in their treatment of gypsies and travellers tend to end up with more.”
Helen Jones, chief executive of Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange, said the injunctions meant all gypsies and travellers were being criminalised for the behaviour of a minority.
“It’s to control the behaviour of a very small number of people who are doing industrial fly-tipping and antisocial behaviour. We don’t deal with the criminal behaviour but we punish them all,” she said. “When the first and only face you see from the state is telling you to shift it’s no wonder these groups start to feel really excluded. It’s pushed people out and made them very invisible, and our politicians are taking a stance of protecting local voters from these ‘hordes’. It is social cleansing.”

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