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Amnesty call to halt eviction of Essex travellers

Human rights campaigners have called for a halt to the eviction of families living on the UK's largest illegal travellers' site.

Amnesty International says the planned eviction of almost 100 families living on Dale Farm, near Basildon, Essex, could leave up to 400 people homeless.

Basildon Council officials, supported by Essex Police, are expected to take action to clear the site next month if the travellers do not leave by August 31.

The cost of the clearance is expected to reach £9.5 million.

Travellers' groups have said they are unwilling to meet this deadline and hundreds of people have pledged to join them in "non-violent resistance".

The plea from Amnesty follows similar calls from Raquel Rolnik, the UN's special rapporteur on housing, and Rita Izak, a UN independent expert on minority issues.

Jezerca Tigani, Amnesty's deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia programme, said: "Up to 400 people could be left homeless as a result of the forced eviction which would require them to vacate their plots without an authorised site to which they can take their caravans.

"The authorities must ensure that their actions do not break international law. They should instead talk to the residents of Dale Farm and reach a negotiated solution."

Traveller families settled on the former scrapyard more than a decade ago. About 110 children are thought to live there.

The eviction notice applies to about half the plots which are unauthorised developments.

The land is owned by traveller families but they have been denied permission to build residential properties.

Some have been offered "bricks and mortar" housing as an alternative but many do not want this. They fear they will be unable to find a culturally suitable alternative.

Ms Tigani said: "A negotiated settlement is a must and the local authorities should work with those living at Dale Farm towards achieving it.

"This means genuine consultation, in a manner that seeks meaningful input from travellers rather than a form-filling exercise, and, if an eviction is unavoidable, ensuring adequate alternative housing which allows the Irish travellers to express their cultural identity."

Council leader Tony Ball said the authority had spent the last 10 years trying to find a peaceful solution.

He said the council was still working to find a solution without the need for a clearance.