The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community is under attack and we as politicians have a duty to speak out.
Last month, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act became law. It’s a draconian piece of legislation that will hit marginalised groups hardest, increasing the danger of police interactions, particularly for young Black men, and cracking down on everyone’s right to protest.
The act’s passage through parliament did not go smoothly, with parliamentarians, civil society and hundreds of thousands of ordinary people making it clear that this legislation was not made in our name. Thanks to them, some of the very worst aspects were stripped from the act before it became law.
However, among the measures that did pass, and those that were sadly less remarked-upon during the process, were anti-trespass laws that will have a devastating impact on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community – effectively criminalising many GRT people’s way of life, and putting families in the firing line for increased harassment and violence at the hands of the police.
While many grassroots groups and human rights organisations raised the alarm about these dangerous measures, it’s fair to say that they did not receive the widespread attention and condemnation that the Policing Act’s anti-protest measures attracted. Sadly, centuries of prejudice and suppression have left the GRT community without a strong voice in our society, and without the kind of mainstream allyship needed to fight against threats to their way of life.
As deputy leader of the Green Party, I consider it a crucial part of my role to bring marginalised voices into the mainstream. As a party, we’re committed to fighting injustice and intolerance – and so often the roots of discrimination are found in ignorance. That’s why I’ve launched a programme of education I’m calling the Always Learning series – inspired by the words of a veteran Green Party activist who once told me: “I’ve realised that even at the age of 85, I’m still always learning.”
The first Always Learning event, held to coincide with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, brought together some incredible voices from the GRT community to tell us about their history, the challenges they face today, and how those of us from outside the community can support them. We heard from Claire Rice, a GRT human rights activist, GR8 movement leader Virgil Bitu, and Dr Marius Taba, a member of the board of trustees for Friends, Families and Travellers.
It was an incredibly eye-opening evening. We heard about the hundreds of years of oppression faced by the Roma people, from 500 years of enslavement to extermination under the Nazi regime and forced assimilation at the hands of communist regimes. We heard about the social integration programmes now being implemented by European governments without the participation of the communities affected, and the detrimental effects this has.
We also spoke about the vile discrimination and harassment aimed at the GRT community in many forms – from hate speech on social media, which incites violence against GRT people, to establishments like holiday park Pontins, currently under investigation for keeping a blacklist of “undesirable” Irish names as part of its policy to refuse service to Travellers. It was particularly sickening to be reminded of Jimmy Carr’s foul “joke” about the thousands of Gypsies killed in the Holocaust – a reminder, if we needed it, that not only is anti-GRT prejudice still prevalent in society, it’s also all too often tolerated.
This, ultimately, was the message from our speakers: that allies, particularly those of us with a voice in politics, have a responsibility to vocally condemn this kind of prejudice and discrimination. In the face of vicious attacks from the government and many corners of the media, it’s never been more important for politicians from all ends of the political spectrum to stand up against hatred and bigotry.
I urge those from other parties to join me in standing up and saying – we will no longer tolerate the demonisation, harassment and marginalisation of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community.
Amelia Womack is the deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
Photo: GRT protestors in London last year against anti-trespass laws (Belinda Jiao/Getty)