An encampment at a "Kill the Bill" protest at College Green, Bristol. (Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
In the United Kingdom (UK) since 2010, the government has created a “hostile environment” for illegal immigration. The "Gypsy," Roma and Traveller community, a traditionally nomadic minority, has endured persecution in Europe since the Middle Ages. The Nazis killed 300,000 to 500,000 Roma in the Holocaust, while Sweden subjected Roma to forced sterilization until 1976. Even now, their way of life is under threat in the UK.
Since World War II, the UK has passed laws harming Roma and Travellers. Roma and Travellers often face evictions, and their land use applications are often rejected. Following the government’s revision of the definition of “Gypsies” and “Travellers” in 2015, it has been more difficult for those who temporarily stop travelling to retain their eligibility for land use applications.
A 2016 law watered down authorities’ obligations to provide encampment sites. An Equality and Human Rights Commission survey showed 44% of people in the UK expressed negative feelings towards Roma and Travellers. A survey in the Traveller Movement's 2017 report found that 91% of participants from the community faced discrimination in education, healthcare, and employment; 77% experienced hate speech or crime; and 76% hid their identity. Their life expectancy is 10 years below the UK average, and their lifestyle makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill contains anti-protest measures, and it also harms Roma and Travellers by criminalizing trespass and unauthorized encampments. Police have already used violent tactics at protests against the bill. The vaguely-defined bill could result in land bans, fines, jail terms, or vehicle seizures for residing or "intending" to reside on land with a vehicle without consent or causing significant "disruption" or "distress." Such measures could increase homelessness and trigger family separations and even forced adoptions. Given the itinerant lifestyle of Gypsies and Travellers, which was upheld as an "enshrined freedom not to stay in one place" by the Court of Appeal in 2020, the bill appears to be a direct attack on the community’s identity. Only 3% of encampments were unauthorized in 2020, but families that use such camps often have no option, and the number of families concerned may change over time. 84% of police oppose criminalizing unauthorized encampments. 93% propose more site provision instead.
The mainstreaming of dehumanization by politicians has fed into policymaking. A Conservative politician was suspended in 2014 for saying Travellers should be “executed”. Others still in office have called them “parasites” and a “disease”. The 2019 Conservative manifesto said criminalizing trespass would “protect our communities.” While there is no evidence of disproportionately high crime rates around Traveller sites, Home Secretary Priti Patel has said nearby communities “should not be living in fear” and referred broadly to “criminality” among Travellers.
The 2018 Windrush Scandal collectively traumatized Black people in the UK. The Home Office deported or detained at least 164 residents from the Windrush Generation, which the UK invited from the Caribbean to settle from 1948 to 1971. It never offered them citizenship and then destroyed their landing cards in 2010. At least 11 deportees died, 50,000 people risked deportation, and 5,000 were impacted in some way. Victims faced discrimination or homelessness, including people born in the UK. The Windrush Compensation Scheme has been slow and insufficient. Some survivors have still been denied citizenship.
Refugees have also been targeted with harsh policies. Discriminatory migration policies have forced refugees to take dangerous sea-crossings, causing almost 300 deaths since 1999. The UK has dropped a refugee family reunification scheme led by Lord Alf Dubs, who fled Nazi genocide in the Kindertransport mission. This form of family separation is harming children’s welfare. The UK has crammed refugees into military barracks despite their increased risk of contracting COVID-19. The government plans to deny asylum rights to refugees who arrive illegally and send asylum seekers to be processed offshore. In Australia, a similar policy has been held to amount to crimes against humanity.
The government-ordered Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has denied the UK is institutionally racist. However, Genocide Watch considers the UK is at Stage 3: Discrimination, Stage 4: Dehumanization, and Stage 6: Polarization of the Ten Stages of Genocide. The police bill threatens to elevate the UK to Stage 8: Persecution. Genocide Watch recommends:
Members of Parliament should remove parts of the bill criminalizing the rights of Gypsies and Travellers.
If the bill passes without these changes, it should be challenged in the UK courts for violating Travellers’ rights.
The government should provide more encampment sites and form a strategy to tackle anti-Traveller discrimination.
The government should compensate and grant citizenship to all Windrush survivors and protect refugee rights.