Gypsy groups fear new wave of evictions

Human rights campaigners have condemned a wave of evictions and court actions against Gypsies and Irish Travellers which they say are threatening to extinguish a whole way of life.

Dozens of families face the prospect of being pushed off plots of land they own and forced to move back into illegal “side-of-the road” and wasteland camping. Children will be unable to go to school and the elderly and infirm unable to access health services, say the campaigners.

Eric Pickles, the communities and local government minister, is drafting new laws to allow police more powers to evict and arrest people for trespass on public land. Planning laws are also being changed to stop applications for retrospective permission to put caravans on private land.

Pickles has already announced the reversal of previous efforts to provide “pitches” within all local authorities, abolishing the regional planning bodies which were to oversee provision of registered sites for travellers and ease the tensions caused by Gypsies being forced to camp illegally.

The grants that had been made available to councils to provide sites have also been slashed, although an estimated £18m a year is being spent on evictions.

“Gypsies are being squeezed on all sides in this wave of intolerance and racism which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” said Gratton Puxon, 69, a founder member of the Gypsy Council.

There are around 18,000 Gypsy and Traveller caravans in England, with 80% of them on authorised sites, land they own or rent. The numbers on illegal sites is so small, according to the government’s own reports, that they could all be accommodated on one square mile.

The clampdown comes against a background of rising attacks against Roma people in Europe which has led to a demand for the EU to tackle what some are calling an attempted “ethnic cleansing” of travelling people. France has intensified its crackdown on Gypsies, announcing that 300 sites would be closed down in the next three months and any Gypsies found breaking the law would be deported. In 2008 the Italian government declared its Roma population was a national security risk, while in 2009 more than 100 Romanian Gypsies were attacked with bricks and bottles in Ireland and driven from their homes.

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