When they spoke to Amnesty, many of the residents recounted the uncertainty that ruled their lives before they moved to Dale Farm - being moved from car parks to common grounds and fields, for a few months at a time. It was only after they moved to Dale Farm that their children and grandchildren, had been able to attend one primary school continuously. For many families, this is the first generation that has completed primary school and is literate. Two sisters, in their 60s and 70s, told us how proud they were of their grandchildren having learned to read and write at school, something neither one of them had the opportunity to do.
Basildon Council are not merely undertaking a "site clearance", as commentators and politicians have tried to cast it, it is undoubtedly a forced eviction that will leave families homeless and vulnerable to further human rights violations. Dale Farm residents are fearful about the widespread prejudice and harassment they face, and whether they would be able to find somewhere safe to live and send their children to school. Given the outpouring of vitriol that has been directed at the Dale Farm community since the plight of the residents became the subject of media attention, their caution is hardly surprising.
What is being undertaken at Dale Farm in Essex, is the dismantling of a community of families, that much we know. We know it from the hastily erected signs which plead "where will we go?" and "we have no home" and "don't split us up". It is the we and the us which indicates the collective nature of the society of families. The number of families which is formally estimated as living at Dale Farm is around 80, but the residents classify themselves as just four large close-knit families, who make up one cohesive community.
Housing is a human right and cultural adequacy is one of its core components. While Basildon Council did offer some Dale Farm residents bricks and mortar housing many Gypsy and Traveller communities do not consider bricks and mortar housing would adequately enable them to maintain their way of life. If Traveller families at Dale Farm had been given planning permission, or provided with an alternative site where they could continue to live as a community their children could have continued with their schooling, the seriously ill and young children could get regular healthcare. The sad reality is that the Dale Farm families being evicted have been failed by the Council at every turn; in inadequate consultation, insufficient negotiation and in the woeful failure to offer culturally adequate alternative accommodation, to which they are entitled.
Not so long ago there was hope. Many of us believed that good sense would prevail and Basildon Council would negotiate a settlement with Dale Farm residents and avoid a forced eviction. Unfortunately, on the morning of 19 October Basildon Council initiated a forced eviction on an unprecedented scale. One can only wonder where the Dale families will go and how long it will be before they are evicted again.
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