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Dale Farm resists eviction

Natalie Silverstein reports on the latest developments at Dale Farm, a travelled community threatened with eviction

ON 19 SEPTEMBER, the 86 families resident at the Dale Farm site in Basildon, Essex celebrated as the High Court issued a last minute injunction to delay their eviction. This was granted due to concerns that about a “total clearance” of the entire site, including structures allowed to be there. While this only gave the site four days respite, the next court hearing of Friday 23 September has seen any eviction decision postponed until at least after the weekend and possibly for several weeks.

The eviction would have been one of the largest in British history, uprooting a community of 400 Irish travellers that settled on the site over a decade ago. Despite rhetoric about the need to protect “green belt” land, the plans have been widely recognised as discriminating against the travelling community, which has been facilitated by a deeply rooted racism.

While Friday’s hearing was another temporary victory, the judge has made it clear that the “ultimate eviction” was “in many cases going to happen” but that the stays were being granted to ensure all residents were “treated with dignity” and that “minimum alarm” was caused to children.

But dignity for the travelling community means precisely having the space provided to live on travelling sites – not pushed into the overcrowded, substandard fixed housing that has been or will be offered to them. Likewise the children of Dale Farm, who go to local schools, will have their lives seriously disrupted by the eviction, however it is carried out.

The question remains – why is the council spending millions of pounds to evict people from a field?

The leader of Basildon council has already said that those evicted will have to leave the area, as there are no suitable authorised sites to house them on. The issue of where they will go has been kept firmly off the agenda, with the government even refusing an offer from the UN to help negotiate a deal between the travellers and the local authority.

While the injunctions have provided a welcome respite for the community, we cannot rely on the legal process. This has so far led only to delaying the day of eviction and is ultimately likely to give the green light for most of the site clearance to go ahead. On 19 September, 200 residents and protestors blocked the entrance to the site, with some chaining themselves to the cars and concrete blocks. If and when the court finally gives the green light, residents of Dale Farm and their supporters will need to use similar tactics to save their homes.
The network that has been created around the anti-eviction campaign should be transformed into a broad based solidarity involving the labour movement and anti-racist groups, demanding decent plots for all travellers and fighting for an end to anti-gypsy racism.

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