The United Kingdom should ensure adequate housing for Gypsies and
Strasbourg, 01/03/2012 –
“The rights of Gypsies and Travellers to adequate housing are undermined
throughout the United Kingdom. The authorities must uphold this right,
which is a pre-condition for the enjoyment of other human rights,
including the rights to education and health” stated Thomas Hammarberg,
the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while releasing a
letter addressed to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local
Government in the United Kingdom, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles.
The European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social
Rights have highlighted shortcomings related to the right to housing of
Gypsies and Travellers in the UK. “The continuing shortage of adequate
permanent and transit sites for Gypsies and Travellers living in
caravans is a priority area to address. By and large, local authorities
have failed to provide new sites or refurbish existing sites in
accordance with identified needs”, wrote the Commissioner.
The Commissioner regrets the dismantling of the system whereby local
authorities were required to carry out assessments concerning the
accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers and to present a strategy
to meet those needs. “Without such a system, there is a real risk of a
further decrease in the number of publicly-run sites, which is already
insufficient.” In addition, Gypsies and Travellers face difficulties in
obtaining planning permission, which effectively relegates them to
unauthorised encampment. This is the case for approximately one quarter
of the 60-70,000 Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans in the United
Kingdom. “This situation exposes the persons concerned to a permanent
risk of eviction and human rights violations”.
The events of October 2011 at Dale Farm in Basildon, Essex, where over
eighty Traveller families, including children, elderly people and
persons with health problems, were evicted from the site where they had
lived for many years, illustrate the Commissioner’s concerns. “It is
highly regrettable that it was not possible for the relevant local
authority to find an acceptable solution, respectful of the rights of
all parties involved.” In particular, the Commissioner recalls that over
100 children were evicted, and that the authorities are under an
obligation to treat the best interest of the child as a primary
consideration in all administrative and judicial acts, in accordance
with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Many of the approximately 400 Travellers who were evicted, or who left
shortly before the eviction took place, have returned to the area. They
have either moved to the authorised part of the site or parked their
trailers and caravans along the roads leading up to Dale Farm. As a
result, they are currently exposed to health and safety hazards.
Basildon Council has indicated that there is a possibility of further
action to remove these persons from the area, without offering
culturally acceptable housing alternatives. “The rights to adequate
housing of Travellers in Basildon have already been violated once. The
authorities should ensure that no further violations take place, and
should work responsibly towards a solution that is acceptable for all”.
Finally, the Commissioner calls on the Secretary of State to ensure that
local authorities are made aware of the United Kingdom’s obligation to
respect the right to adequate housing for all, including Gypsies and
Travellers, and to deploy all efforts to identify sustainable solutions,
respectful of cultural diversity.
Read the Commissioner's
reply by the authorities of the United Kingdom.
* This terminology refers to a heterogeneous group of persons
in the United Kingdom who associate themselves with a Gypsy and/or
Traveller identity, including Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers.
Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Stefano Montanari, +33 (0)6 61 14 70 37;
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