A UK council voted last night (24 Jan) to carry out what is seen by many as a policy of ethnic-cleansing against Romanies and Travellers.
Basildon district's key development committee, after a fierce four-hour debate, decided by four votes to one, with one abstention, to bulldoze the homes of some 1,000 Travellers living in the area.
Outside the meeting, pregnant mothers and children stood in sub-zero temperatures to hold a candle-lit vigil, hoping against the odds that the decision might go the other way.
But cold-hearts prevailed as chairwoman Mrs S Buckley, wife of Basildon's Tory leader, three times put to the vote first the destruction of Dale Farm, and then the smaller Hovefields and Five Acre Farm communities. All in the name of preserving the so-called greenbelt.
"This is ethnic-cleansing" Dale Farm spokesman Richard Sheridan told the meeting after the last count. "You have turned down every reasonable alternative and only want to get rid of us at all costs."
However, a new Labour Party member of the committee Sultan Nandanwar said he he was against the eviction operations. In his view it was unwise to proceed in this way while a judicial review of council policy was pending.
Joe Jones, of National Gypsy and Traveller Affairs, said people around the world had now heard of Dale Farm. It had become an issue no longer about planning rules but about humanity and human rights.
He said the costs of eviction, both for the Travellers and the council, were now far too high. "I ask you to search your hearts and re-consider," Jones ended.
Dale Farm resident Nora Gore, whose plea made a strong emotional impact on all those whose minds allowed, said as a diabetic since the age of nine she depended on constant medical supervision. In addition her father was chronically ill with heart disease. "If you put us out on the road," she asked, "how are we to survive? This is a death sentence."
Spokesperson for the women of Dale Farm Kathleen McCarthy said no fewer than eight women were currently pregnant and, as it happened, all expecting their babies in March. Many small children were growing up in the security of their own community, but once again Basildon council had cast a dark cloud over their future.
"Why are ye picking on us?" asked Mrs McCarthy. "What have we ever done to you to deserve extermination?" But when it came to voting time what was described as the biggest decision ever to come before the committee was resolved by a quick show of hands.
Pleas to await the outcome of a proposal by UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to re-accommodate families at Pitsea were brushed aside as irrelevant.
Grattan Puxon, of the new UK Forum, linked to the European Roma and Travellers Forum in Strasbourg, said the decision to evict contravened the latest Council of Europe recommendations on two vital points. The CE said no evictions should take place without an injunction from a judge and only when an acceptable alternative was being provided.
"You have chosen to ignore these recommendations and in effect declared war on a section of your own residents," said Puxon. "Worse than that this has all the hallmarks of a racial conflict because you seem unable to bury your prejudices."
A protest letter outlining the position of the ERTF from Kay Beard, UK Association of Gypsy Women and UK delegate to Strasbourg, was circulated at the meeting.
PETITION AGAINST ETHNIC CLEANSING
To be presented to Basildon Council on Roma Nation Day
8 April, 2006.
We, the undersigned, condemn all acts of ethnic-cleansing and forceful removal being perpetuated against Roma and Travellers.
But in particular we wish to draw attention to the courageous stand being made by the residents of Dale Farm who, despite a vote by Basildon Council to destroy their homes, continue in the name of Travellers everywhere, their non-violent campaign to save their community from the bulldozer.
We call for common sense, reason and tolerance: leave Dale Farm alone.
To add your name just CLICK on Dale.firstname.lastname@example.org