Let Dale Farm Travellers Stay, EU Human Rights Watchdog Says

Europe's human rights watchdog has called for the legalisation of long-established traveller sites - even if they breach local planning laws.

Guidelines published in Strasbourg as bailiffs were due to clear the Dale Farm travellers' site in Essex, urged countries signed up to the European Human Rights Convention - including the UK - to waive the rules "once the situation has been tolerated for a long period of time by the public authorities".

The report, from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), includes a raft of measures it says should be taken to tackle what it called a "rising tide of anti-Gypsyism and discrimination against Roma".

They include provision of "decent", non-segregated housing for Roma families and safeguards against eviction from their homes without notice or without the opportunity of being rehoused.

The report asks governments to "combat prejudice and stereotypes concerning Roma and travellers in respect of access to housing", and to "ensure that appropriate encampment areas, whether for permanent occupation or transit, are available to travellers in sufficient numbers on suitable and duly serviced sites."

ECRI, an independent monitoring body advising the 47 member states of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, has regularly issued reports recommending action to combat prejudice, and "social exclusion" suffered by Roma communities.

It stressed that the problem had prompted the European Court of Human Rights to develop case-law concerning discrimination against Roma, "and now regards them as a particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable minority thus requiring special attention".

The report acknowledges that many Council of Europe countries have taken action to improve the situation, but warns: "In spite of everything, the situation of Roma in most member states remains alarming...the signs of anti-Gypsyism are continually increasing and worsening."

Meanwhile Labour Essex MEP Richard Howitt said the Dale Farm site should be a "playground not a battleground".

After months of efforts to help mediate, he commented: "If the same energy and resources had been put in to finding alternative legal sites as has been put in today's military-style exercise, then I am sure an acceptable compromise would have been found long before now. Given at least 50 children amongst the families present, the site should be a playground not a battleground, and the first priority must be that no-one on any side is harmed in today's action."