A row concerning the basic ‘right to settlement’ emerges in the Netherlands. Several Traveller groups, including Roma and Sinti, have occupied vacant trailer lots that were once appointed to their community. So far, 34 former Traveller locations have been occupied with moveable caravans.
The travelers peacefully protest against the so called ‘Extinction Policy,’ enduring, but quiet assimilation efforts of local governments, that prevent younger generations from taking up trailer lots left vacant by deceased or departing community members. At the end of this process, Travellers, Roma and Sinti are pressured into accepting regular housing.
Community break up
It so appears that local governments aim to break up the Traveller, Roma and Sinti community. Crime or troublesome relations with community inhabitants are named as reason for such efforts. However, no evidence or numbers are given to underpin claims of nuisance to the overall society.
In an interview with NOS, occupants in the southern Dutch village Mill make their case: ‘The Council of State has purposed this area, and many other areas, for the settlement of Travellers. Yet, we are denied single permits to place a home and restart a community here.’ The occupants hold up the Mill lot for the 24th day in a row now, at a fine rate of 5.000 EUR per 24 hours. They are willing to take up the case to the highest court.
The situation may very well develop in favor of the occupants. The state mandates that spaces are to be granted to the traveler community, a right given in the 1960’s to a generation of Travellers, Roma and Sinti that is now steadily aging. Still, municipalities have no right to push young Traveler generations into regular housing. Also, the right to specifically live in a trailer has firm legal roots. In 2014, trailer settlements were acknowledged as part of the Dutch cultural heritage.
The National Ombudsperson and Human Rights Council have therefore openly rejected the Extinction Policy practices, stating that governments are insensitive to the cultural roots and needs of its Traveler population. Minister Kasja Ollongren (D66, Interior Affairs) made dubious statements on the subject. She does acknowledge the rights of the Traveller community, but claims at the same time that local governments can repurpose their soil at their convenience. ‘The right to settle does not justify this random occupation,’ so she says.
Many Travelers are part of a vivid community that make a living off of traveling fairs, which are highly popular throughout the Dutch and Belgian community. Most of them; however, work regular jobs, they are educated well and they are all subject to taxes. Unemployment is not part of the perceived problems.
Closeness of friends
Most of the protesters are involved in the occupation because they fail to find their way in regular housing. Piet Soering told NOS: ‘It may be hard to understand for non-Travelers, but the walls truly moved in on me. I’ve tried six different places. But my place is here. This is us.’
The Travellers notably do not reject the regular community in any way. It is – so they say – that they miss having their friends and family nearby, a strength so characteristic for the Traveller, Roma and Sinti community.
The issue will be debated on the 18th of October 2018 in the national House of Representatives.
- Following contact with NOS reporter Mattijs van de Wiel, ISSA was told that the Municipality of Mill was unwilling to respond to the developing situation.
– Jolanda Clement for ISSA
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