Gypsies and travelers facing the repression of the camps
Hundreds of passenger caravans have been reported at unauthorized sites in west Oxfordshire over the past year, exposing families to prosecution under strict new laws.
New legislation could threaten the nomadic traditions of gypsies and traveler communities by criminalizing unauthorized encampments, the Friends, Families and Travelers charity warned, calling the proposed measures “draconian”.
Currently passed by Parliament, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would give the police more powers to deal with such encampments, including the right to seize vehicles and impose heavy fines on those who enter “with the intention of residing”.
As of July, there were places for 32 caravans at local authorities and at private sites in West Oxfordshire, according to the latest government passenger caravan count.
Data from the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities shows that there were 276 travel trailers in the region in July, up from 263 in July 2019, when the last count of the summer took place.
Of those counted this year, none were in unauthorized locations.
Across England, 21,000 passenger caravans were in approved locations in the first count since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – nearly 90% of those counted.
However, figures show that 3,000 were in unauthorized settlements, most of them on land owned by travelers and Gypsies.
The number of caravans parked at other unlicensed sites has fallen by a third nationwide since the last summer count in July 2019.
But the FFT specifies that it gives no indication of the number of people waiting for approved locations.
The charity estimates that hundreds of people could be waiting for a space across England, while figures show only two new socially leased locations were created nationwide between July 2019 and July 2021.
The introduction of new legislation could have a “chilling” impact on those currently residing in roadside camps and those who wish to live nomadically, according to the FFT.
Abbie Kirkby, head of public affairs and policy for the charity, said the tally had failed to capture a “dire lack” of safe stopping spaces.
She said: “It tells us how many vehicles there are, but nothing about the people and the stories behind them.
“With the government’s police bill making its way into parliament, roadside gypsies and Travelers will soon be caught in a risk trap of facing jail or being coerced. to move into bricks and mortar.
“It is utterly illogical and immoral to use the full force of the law to tell people where they cannot go without telling them where they can go.”
A government spokesperson said she welcomed the reduction in unauthorized sites and had provided funds to councils to build sites for travelers to ensure that Gypsy, Roma and Traveler communities are supported .
She added: “Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the government is clearly committed to strengthening the powers of the police to stop and seize the vehicles of those who set up unauthorized camps and cause damage, disturbance or distress. ”