This year at the General Assembly commissioners heard a report on the Church’s attitude to the Travelling Community in Scotland.
Today I was encouraged to receive a letter from the Scottish Government which affirmed the contents of this report and our desire as a Church to see the rights of the Travelling Community respected. The Scottish Government has made it clear that discrimination against the Travelling Community is to be taken seriously. In fact, it goes so far as to recognise the Travelling Community as a distinct ethnic group and has set out a number of proposals which it hopes will allow this community to flourish.
This is encouraging news as it is good progress to achieving some of the recommendations set out by the Church’s report. Moreover, the recognition of the Travelling Community as a distinct ethnic group (giving rise to legal rights) is important as it is in line with our call as Christians to defend the rights of the oppressed and to be a voice for those in minority groups (Psalm 82:3,4 and Isaiah 1:17).
It is with great sadness then that I have noted the news that during the month ahead 400 Travellers currently residing at Dale Farm, Essex are to be evicted from their homes. Aside from the obvious trauma of being forcibly removed from their homes, this community of Travellers will also see the consequences of this eviction affect their access to healthcare, employment, safe residence and even education as children too will be uprooted. On a relational level, friends and families face being split apart as the Travellers are forced to move on and relocate.
Earlier I mentioned the call of the Christian to uphold the rights of minorities. The Church of all places should be a forum where the voice of Travellers can be heard safely and which supports the rights of this oppressed and too often misunderstood group. Not least because in our own history as a body of God’s people we have ourselves been a wandering community, just take a look through the books of Exodus and Ruth. The imminent eviction of residents at Dale Farm threatens the basic rights of this community of Travellers. I will be praying for this community in the days ahead as they begin to come to terms with the upheaval they face. I would also join with the UN’s Committee on Elimination and Discrimination in calling for this eviction to be stopped, or at the very least postponed until suitable alternative accommodation, which reflects the culture of the Travelling Community, can be found.
For further information see this press release on the report regarding the Church’s attitude to the travelling community.