Solidarity with the UK’s Gypsy and Traveller communities

JVL Introduction

We have been sent the following petition and are happy to endorse its views and to support its call for signatories.

We understand that it comes from a young student at Warwick University.

It says: “We, the undersigned, call on the government to drop its proposal for the criminalisation of trespass with immediate effect and consult with Gypsy and Traveller communities’ on any future policy proposal.”

There is a list of reference at the end of the petition. We would particularly commend the first item there, viz Discrimination facing Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in the UK today.

The petition is called “An open letter to the Home Secretary from British Jews”. You can sign it here.


An open letter to the Home Secretary from British Jews

Dear Secretary of State

We are writing to you as Jews in solidarity with the UK’s Gypsy and Traveller communities to oppose the Government’s unwarranted and discriminatory proposals to make trespass a criminal offense.

The Home Office’s proposed ‘Policing and Crime Bill’, will make intentional trespass with vehicles a criminal offence, potentially exposing those prosecuted to up to three months in prison. This poses a threat to the rights of all UK Citizens, limiting liberties and increasing police powers. Crucially, this law will disproportionately impact Gypsy and Traveller communities, who are recognised as an ethnic group under the Equality Act. It is a threat to the human rights of an already marginalised group.

Despite having been a part of British life since before the 16th century, Gypsy and Traveller communities face discrimination and racism in many areas of life. This includes education, healthcare, policing and employment [1]. However, perhaps the most stark aspect of the inequality faced by Gypsy and Traveller communities is in housing.[2]

Whilst in the UK, the majority of Gypsies and Travellers live in permanent housing, a significant proportion, around 25% [3], live in caravans or other mobile structures, in accordance with their culture and traditional way of life, as is their human right[4]. A nomadic lifestyle is an important cultural tradition for Gypsy and Traveller communities, which the proposed law would criminalise without providing another legal option. To quote the Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) charity, it would punish people “for the ‘crime’ of having nowhere else to go.”[5], criminalising a form of homelessness. 73% of people asked by the government expect that criminalising unauthorised encampments would have a negative impact on the health or educational outcomes of Gypsy and Traveller communities.

There is a chronic shortage of legal caravan sites[6], this situation was worsened by the pandemic, with over 1600 families on the waiting list for pitches on public sites. 65%[7] of police respondents to a government consultation recognised lack of site provision as the real problem and in a FFT report, 93%[8] of police bodies called for better site provision for Gypsies and Travellers as a solution to unauthorised encampments.

Jews know from our history that an attack on one minority is an attack on all. The only solution is to stand together for all our rights. We stand with the Gypsy and Traveller communities against the ‘Policing and Crime Bill’ which will compound the inequalities they experience because of their ethnicity. Jewish and Gyspy Traveller communities have a deep historical connection. Both of our communities suffered from being restricted to narrow and stigmatising social roles. Both have been vilified as thieves and cheats. Both communities have been suspected to be as rootless cosmopolitans, without connection to our national communities. Our communities have continually suffered from racist hostility and persecution, including shared experience during the Shoah and Porajmos.

This measure is unevidenced, discriminatory and particularly cruel during the coronavirus pandemic which has disproportionately affected Gypsy and Traveller communities. We, the undersigned, call on the government to drop its proposal for the criminalisation of trespass with immediate effect and consult with Gypsy and Traveller communities’ on any future policy proposal.

Yours Sincerely,

To sign the petition click here.

 

Further reading

[1] https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/discrimination-facing-gypsies-roma-and-travellers-in-the-uk-today-2.pdf
[2] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/research-report-12-inequalities-experienced-by-gypsy-and-traveller-communities.pdf
[3]https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-8083/CBP-8083.pdf
[4]https://www.renecassin.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/The-Effect-of-Human-Rights-Legislation-on-Gypsy-and-Traveller-Communities.pdf
[5]https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/news/fft-response-to-home-office-statement-on-trespass/
[6]https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Availability-of-pitches-on-Traveller-sites-in-England_FINAL.pdf
[7]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/14/police-oppose-traveller-and-gypsy-camp-crackdown-foi-shows
[8]https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/news/police-repeat-calls-for-more-sites-rejecting-home-office-proposals-to-criminalise-trespass/

Comments (2)

  • Rene Gimpel says:

    Congratulations, JVL, for endorsing this appeal. I have signed it.

    The Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris held an exhibition on the plight o the Gypsy and Roma communities in France in World War Two. If Jews were the main target for round-up and deportation by the Nazi occupiers, the Roma community was a convenient second. Many suffered the same fate. The Vichy government collaborated with the occupier, of course, but many Roma were interned by Vichy in camps in southern France, behind barned wire and subject to ill-treatment. What is shocking is a particular aspect of this forced internment and one which bears on the current government’s casual disregard for Traveller needs: the last internment camp in France closed its doors… in August 1946, a full 16 months after the end of the war.

    In other words, while antisemitism has become unacceptable, anti-Roma sentiment continues without demur. France in 1946; the UK today.

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    Inspiring to read this solidarity in the week of Passover. I have shared the petition far and wide, hoping it will get many more signatures.

Comments are now closed.