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Evicted U.K. Travelers forced to hit the road
Irish minority loses court fight; ethnic bias is an issue
CRAYS HILL, England — Vivien Slattery has lived her whole life — all 16 days of it — in a tidy mobile home, one of dozens more like it on a crowded site beside green English fields. Her mother grew up here, surrounded by friends and extended family.
Soon, baby Vivien and more than 200 others will be evicted from the settlement east of London, the losers in a decade-long battle between local officials and their community of Irish Travelers that has drawn attention around the world and concern from the United Nations.
The local authority says it’s a simple planning issue: The 86 families lack permission to pitch homes on the land.
The Travelers — a traditionally nomadic group similar to, but ethnically distinct from, Gypsy, or Roma, people — call it ethnic cleansing.
“There’s no need of it. There’s no need for them to treat us the way they are treating us,” said 23-year-old Kathleen Slattery, feeding her infant daughter a bottle of milk.
“They just want us gone. They want us to vanish in thin air,” she said. “They’re not even taking a 2-week-old baby into consideration.”
The conflict over the settlement, known as Dale Farm, has raged since 2001, when Travelers bought and settled on a former scrapyard next to a legal Travelers’ site 30 miles east of London. The local authority waged a long legal battle to remove them, which it finally won at Britain’s High Court last month.
Evictions are scheduled to begin Monday.
The feud’s roots are much older, buried in centuries of mistrust between the nomads and the much larger settled community in Britain.
“There have always been conflicts between nomadic and settled communities,” said Jake Bowers, a Gypsy writer and editor of the publication Travelers’ Times. “I think it is made worse in this country. The British have a great deal of enthusiasm for their homes being their castles, and there is a perception that Gypsies bring down property prices.”
There are estimated to be between 15,000 and 30,000 Irish Travelers in Britain, where they are recognized as a distinct ethnic minority by the government. Their roots — and their broad brogue — lie in Ireland, but many have been in Britain for generations.
For centuries, Travelers roamed the country’s roads, finding work as itinerant laborers, scrap dealers and horse traders.
But over the past few decades, laws limiting unauthorized camping, economic changes and a desire to see their children educated led many to settle down — sometimes legally, on land provided by the government, and sometimes without permission.
They are rarely popular with the neighbors, who complain about crime and noise. Travelers are often characterized in the tabloid press as feckless scroungers.
Local authorities near Dale Farm say they are not anti-Travelers, merely trying to enforce the law barring development on a “greenfield” site.
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