Report includes calls for council collaboration and the provision of local facilities for unauthorised campsites
THE Scottish Government has published guidance for local councils on how to provide adequate support and interact properly with Gypsy Traveller camps in unauthorised areas.
The report highlights that “Gypsy/Traveller communities are among the most disenfranchised and discriminated against in Scotland” and reminds local authorities that ethnic minorities are protected under the Human Rights Act, while directing them to be able to meet the welfare requirements of Gypsy Traveller communities on unauthorised sites by providing things like waste disposal facilities or medical provisions.
Unauthorised camp sites are legal but, not having been pre-approved or planned by a local authority, they often lack existing facilities or support structures. The Scottish Government’s report advises local governments to do what it can to mitigate the risks of such sites.
Local authorities and councils are encouraged to establish working relationships with camps on unauthorised sites, help safeguard from potential dangers in or around the site, and provide whatever welfare, health, or education needs the community might have.
Cathy Bruce, Gypsy/Traveller Liaison for Aberdeen City Council, welcomed the report, saying it “has given more of an insight into their way of life and how procedures should work throughout all agencies involved,” although she also recommended increasing the number of available transit sites for Gypsies/Travellers to use, as “this would hopefully lower the amount of unauthorised encampments in various areas”.
“We would much rather have seen something coming out as hard policy, because you know when it’s guidance you’re really at the mercy of the local authority.” Lynne Tammi, Article 12
Gypsy Traveller advocacy groups praised the directive, with Lynne Tammi of Article 12 saying: “It’s a positive step that gives an opportunity for local authorities and members of the Gypsy Traveller community to work together.” She did, however, go on to say that simply issuing directives was not enough: “We would much rather have seen something coming out as hard policy, because you know when it’s guidance you’re really at the mercy of the local authority.”
However, some were unhappy with the report, and called for the government to pass a bylaw granting councils the authority to evict unauthorised sites. Douglas Ross, Conservative MSP for Highlands and Islands – who is standing for election as MP at the upcoming General Election – branded Gypsy/Traveller campsites a “blight on communities” and proposed removing facilities from camps in order to discourage Gypsy/Traveller groups.
“The recent statement by Douglas Ross MSP which referred to Traveller sites as a ‘blight on communities’ is an example of divisive, inflammatory language that fuels prejudice.” – Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International Scotland
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s statement in these new guidelines that the ‘same standards of behaviour should be expected from all members of the community, whether Gypsy/Travellers or the settled community, based on mutual respect’.
“However, the recent statement by Douglas Ross MSP which referred to Traveller sites as a ‘blight on communities’ is an example of divisive, inflammatory language that fuels prejudice against the Gypsy/Traveller community.”
Previous attempts at creating bylaws to help councils evict Gypsies/Travellers from unauthorised sites were rejected by the Scottish government, on the grounds that it would constitute discriminatory legislation.
Picture courtesy of Sandy Stevenson
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