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‘The police bill is wiping out a culture’: New Travellers take a stand | Global development

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“I am worried that not everyone knows what is coming,” says Amy, sitting in the truck she has turned into a cosy home for her and her two children. “If this bill is passed it will mean the end of our culture. The end of our way of life.”

Amy, who wanted to be known by her first name, lives with her two sons on a small Travellers’ site down a quiet country lane in the west of England, along the edges of an ancient forest.

Despite the wheels on everyone’s homes, there is a feeling of permanence here. Amy’s neighbours are busy gardening in the sunshine, tyres are filled with plants, wood is stacked in piles ready to be made into more planters. In every corner, life is blooming.

But for Amy, and many others, this way of life is under threat. Gypsies and Travellers are preparing to rally as the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill gets a step closer to being passed into law. If passed, section 4 of the bill, which has its third reading in the Commons this week, will make “residing or intending to reside on land without the permission of the owner or occupier” a new criminal offence.

Amy started a podcast entitled “I choose the road” in an attempt to sound the alarm. “I started to think about how I could get the news out there to other Travellers about what was happening. People might not know their homes could be taken away and they could even go to prison.”

Amy and her neighbours aren’t on the land legally, but “the owners tolerate us for now. I don’t know what will happen once the bill passes, though”. None of the Travellers interviewed by the Guardian wanted to include their full name for fear of being traceable by the authorities.

Amy outside her truck in a field in the west of England, in June. She took to the road in the 1990s and has lived this way ever since.

Across the UK many Travellers live like this, finding fields where they will be quietly tolerated, in breach of planning and housing regulations. Others move much more frequently, having to find somewhere new every few days.

Amy took to the road in the 90’s, after getting involved in a Travellers’ road protest in Ireland as a teenager and living largely in vehicles ever since. “We are known as ‘New Travellers’. We don’t have ethnic heritage but I’ve done this for many years … [The name] allows us to claim our identity without stepping on other people’s.”

For Amy and her neighbour, Jess, living this way is a commitment to an alternative way of life, outside the structures of capitalism.

“It’s about a simpler life,” says Amy, “a life closer to nature where you can hear the rain on the roof, where you don’t need as much money so you can be with your children more. And it’s about community, because living on a Traveller site and raising children here is like living in an old-fashioned village.”

Jess is pottering around outside her van, which is surrounded by the detritus of a creative life. It’s filled with fabric and craft materials and hula-hoops lie all around it. The Traveller community has deep connections to the creative side of British festivals and she hopes to be back on the scene this summer. For now, she is ready to fight for her way of life against the police bill.

“I grew up on a council estate in Wales and I moved to town when I left home and thought ‘oh yes, this is just as bad as I thought it would be’, just depressing and lonely. I realise now what I was searching for was community,” says Jess, who did not want to give her surname.

Jess in her van in the west of England. She says she took to the road because ‘I was searching for community.’

If this bill passes, she says, “we will be the last generation. I will just keep moving … until they take my vehicle, I don’t have other options in my back pocket. I feel fucking petrified and also angry. People worry about Travellers turning up in their area, but where is the common land? You are taking away my animal freedom to be on this planet. It’s wiping out a culture.”

In the south of England, another Jess lives in converted horsebox and rides a large motorbike. Lately, she has been spending time on Facebook, sharing her story of decades on the road and encouraging others to tell their stories. “Travellers don’t like to draw attention to themselves, but I believe this is a time when it’s urgent to share our stories, our culture and history.”

Jess chose this way of life to be closer to nature. “I don’t even like to sit in the van … it’s just so I can be as close to nature as possible. The doors are always open, I’m always outside. There is a real push towards cultural homogeneity, through the media you are told – think this way, judge people like this. People don’t understand why I would choose this life, but for me it’s sanity. A simple lifestyle close to the earth that doesn’t tax resources and is sustainable on a small income. ”

Jess, photographed in her home, a converted horsebox in East Sussex.

Today she is parked up at the top of the South Downs, her truck doors wide open. Like Amy, she took to the road in the 90s, as protest camps and rave culture brought people on to the road.

“When I was younger I had a breakdown and pieced my health back together in Ireland and that is where I met people living on the road, including a world of horse-drawn vehicles. It was eye-opening, I thought, ‘oh my God I don’t have to go home, I can live camping’.

“I worked in agriculture, from farm to farm both here and in Europe. Being outside working was good for my mental health. I had choices and I chose it all.”

Jess can’t say where she has been parked recently because it’s barely legal. Many Travellers are on edge, worried constantly about being tracked down and fined by local authorities.

“During lockdown they left us alone’ says Jess. “But before that I was parking my truck all over Brighton or out in the South Downs. I recently got about three section 77s (a legal order to remove a vehicle) stuck on my windscreen. They say ‘you are believed to be residing in a vehicle on the side of the highway and you need to move in the shortest time practicable’.”

Jess, photographed in front of her home, took to the road after living for a while in camps in Ireland.

  • Jess, photographed in front of the converted horsebox she lives in, took to the road after living for a while in camps in Ireland

“As it stands right now, it is a civil offence – I can move my truck to another place and they mostly leave you alone. You stay a few nights somewhere, take fines in your stride, it’s a hazard of the lifestyle.”

The law will bring a major hardening, from civil to criminal offence. “If this law is enforced they could immediately arrest me, stick me in a police car, take me to the station and destroy my truck.”

Travellers aren’t welcome on the campsites that ordinary holidaymakers might visit. “There are legalities around living on a campsite, they are expensive and they don’t like our vehicles. The special sites set up by councils are full.”

Jess is a confident woman and feels she can speak up if others are too worried to. “Tell me why I shouldn’t live this way? I look after my parents – I work, I pay tax, why do I have to live in a bloody house?”

The converted Bedford Dominant bus that Jess in the west of England bought for £1000 in Spain in 2001.
Before Jess bought it, the Bedford Dominant bus, owned by a group of majorettes. This photograph is of the bus parked in Europe during travels around the continent in 199.
Jess’ converted bus on the road in northern Portugal in 2001.
Jess and her two sons, Luke and Ewan, sitting outside the bus. The photograph is from Jess’s collection of images from her family’s time living in Europe in the late 90s and early 00s.

In Bristol, Luke saw Jess’s message and thought the time had come to speak up. He is part of a group of Travellers who move around the south-west, currently awaiting eviction from a site they broke into and looking at where they can hide next.

“What are we supposed to do? Squatting is gone, soon this will go – just all means of subsistence are being criminalised. You can’t just be.”

Luke is a full-time carer for young people with disabilities, but doesn’t want to live in an ordinary house. “Nomadism is for me. I like sitting round the campfire, I like digging holes, chopping wood. I need community – I was on my own for a very very long time and – when I got into squatting it was like getting into a warm bath, I don’t really want to give up that communal element.”

He is very concerned about the possible further powers that would allow police to seize vehicles on the spot. “If that happens, I’ll just go back to sleeping in a tent in the wood.”

Amy with her cat, in the west of England.

Earlier this month the high court ruled that local authorities can no longer issue blanket injunctions against “persons unknown” to stop Gypsies and Travellers stopping on local land. In recent years the injunctions were widely used to prevent people stopping even if they were new to the area. Campaigners and lawyers plan to use human rights laws to push back against the bill.

For Luke the constant pressure to move on and stay out of sight is stressful. “The whole time we are keeping an eye on where we can go next. Then on the day we move it’s stressful wondering will it happen, how long will we have there.”

He says his life deserves respect. “There is attention on van lifers, young yuppies and that’s fine. But there are some of us who are not photogenic or erudite who have not got other choices. We are out here living in dilapidated caravans and helping each other out. I would like it to be a matter of record that we existed, some of us who clawed our way out of the filth to get here and even that is being taken away from us.”

A spokesperson for the home secretary said: “We don’t agree with the characterisation that the measures in the bill are ‘wiping out a culture’.

“In July 2019, in England and Wales, only 4.4% of caravans were on unauthorised encampments on land not owned by the occupants.”

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Germany mulls restrictions for unvaccinated as cases soar

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The surge in Covid-19 cases due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant has prompted a debate in Germany over whether people who have not yet been vaccinated should face restrictions – after other countries like France and Greece made similar moves.

“Vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people,” chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said in an interview published on Sunday (25 July).

If infections continue to rise, unvaccinated people might be forbidden from entering restaurants, cinemas, theatres or sports stadiums because “the residual risk is too high,” he said.

Merkel has previously spoken out against making vaccination itself mandatory.

According to Braun, cases are increasing by 60-percent per week and are expected to continue rising.

“If the Delta variant were to continue to spread at this rate and we don’t counter it with a very high vaccination-rate or change in behaviour, we would have an incidence of 850 [cases per 100,000 inhabitants] in just nine weeks,” he said.

Braun argued that introducing further restrictions for unvaccinated people would be legal since “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens” – triggering a debate even within Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

The CDU candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor in September’s national elections, Armin Laschet, has opposed such measures.

“I do not believe in compulsory vaccination, and I do not believe in indirectly putting pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told ZDF television.

“We have had a rule that you must be tested, vaccinated or recovered and I think that is a good principle,” Laschet said.

For his part, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Rolf Mützenich, warned that politicians are not going “to change the vaccination behaviour of individuals with threats”.

About 60 percent of Germany’s 83 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 jab, while just 48 percent are fully-vaccinated.

All jabs approved in the EU – BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson – appeared to be effective against the Delta variant when both doses are administrated in the case of two-shot jabs.

Other countries like Italy, France, and Greece are trying to increase vaccination rates by imposing vaccine passport schemes or mandatory vaccination for certain workers, such as health and care staff.

Weekend protests

Those moves have sparked protests over the weekend.

Thousands gathered on Saturday in several French cities to speak out against the new Covid-19 restrictions for unvaccinated people and mandatory vaccination – with far-right activists and members of the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement clashing with police in Paris.

Similar rallies took place outside the Greek parliament in Athens for the third time this month, while large crowds took the streets in Dublin to protest against the introduction of vaccines passports.

As part of a so-called “Worldwide Rally for Freedom” campaign, protest against vaccine passports, wearing masks, and further lockdowns were organised in major cities across the world, including Sydney, London or Rome.

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Syrian Air Defenses Shot Down Rockets Launched Towards Damasсus Vicinity, Russian Military Says

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Middle East

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The Syrian government has repeatedly accused Israel of conducting regular airstrikes on its territory, calling on international organizations to denounce the attacks as violations of Syria’s sovereignty and introduce sanctions against the Jewish State.

Syrian air defense systems have destroyed two missiles fired by the Israeli F-16 fighter jets toward facilities in the Damascus region, Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, the deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, said on Sunday.

This comes just after Russian-made Buk-M2E air defense systems downed all the rockets launched at the central Syrian province of Homs in the early hours of Thursday. The Russian military added that two Israeli F-16 fighters fired four guided missiles at several facilities in the Homs province. Syrian state media also attributed the strikes to the Israeli military, which never denied nor assumed responsibility for the attack.

According to the official, in the early hours of Sunday, two Israeli F-16 fighter jets conducted an airstrike against facilities in the Set Zaynab settlement, south of Damascus, without entering the Syrian airspace.

“Both missiles were destroyed by Russian Buk-M2E missile systems that are used by the Syrian military’s air defense forces,” Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit said.

On Monday, state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV reported that the Syrian air defense was repelling an air attack from Israel on the Syrian city of as-Safira in the Aleppo Governorate. The Russian military confirmed later that seven missiles fired by Israeli F-16s at Syria were destroyed by the Pantsir-S and Buk-M2 systems of the Syrian air defense.


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Sputnik / Mikhail Fomichev

Air Defense soldiers during exercise, Ashuluk firing ground

While Israel avoids commenting on foreign reports, as it says, in December, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi did acknowledge that the Jewish State had conducted numerous attacks on Syrian territory to counter what he called Iran’s “retrenchment” in the Arab Republic.

It is also reported that Israel uses Lebanon’s airspace to launch strikes against Syria, while some of the rockets are launched from the occupied Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war.



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Jehan Sadat obituary | Women’s rights and gender equality

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Jehan Sadat, who has died aged 88 of cancer, spent most of her life promoting social justice and women’s rights in Egypt. She continued to campaign decades after her husband, President Anwar Sadat, was assassinated, on 6 October 1981, by militants in the army avenging the imprisonment of fellow Islamists and condemning the 1978 Camp David accords that he had signed with Israel.

As a girl in Cairo, Jehan had explored the streets of her neighbourhood of Al-Manial, attributing her self-confidence to her supportive parents. She said that her fight against gender inequality started during her schooldays, when she was encouraged to focus on subjects such as sewing and cooking in preparation for marriage rather than the sciences that would lead to a university career. “I have always regretted that decision. I would never allow my daughters to close off their futures that way,” she wrote in her autobiography, A Woman of Egypt (1987).

Jehan had married Sadat in 1949 at the age of 15; a former army officer, he was twice her age and active in the fight against British control in Egypt. Three years later, he was a key player in the military coup that toppled King Farouk and later brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to the presidency. Sadat took a series of senior positions in the government and after Nasser’s death in 1970 was elected president.

President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, left, shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, with Jimmy Carter looking on at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978, before the announcement of the historic peace accords the following year.
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, left, shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, with Jimmy Carter looking on at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978, before the announcement of the historic peace accords the following year. Photograph: Karl Schumacher/EPA

Jehan had begun her work for women’s rights in the years before she became first lady. She was vocal in condemning female genital mutilation and played a crucial role in the 1960s in the formation of a co-operative in the village of Talla in the Nile Delta that helped local women become skilled in sewing and therefore economically independent of their husbands.

She also headed SOS Children’s Villages, an organisation that provides homes for orphans in a family environment. In 1975 she led the Egyptian delegation to the UN international conference on women in Mexico City and to the 1980 conference in Copenhagen.

Most crucially, she was involved in a campaign to reform Egypt’s status law that would grant women new rights to divorce their husbands and retain custody of their children. The 1975 film Oridu Hallan (I Want a Solution), starring Faten Hamama, illustrated the struggles of Egyptian women under a conservative legal system that suppressed their rights.

“Over half our population are women, Anwar,” she told her husband, as she recorded in A Woman of Egypt. “Egypt will not be a democracy until women are as free as men.”

The attempts of some liberal clerics to defend the limited legal amendments supported by Jehan were undermined by the growing influence of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. Despite the backlash from conservative Muslims, in the summer of 1979 her husband granted her wish and issued decrees improving the divorce status of women, as well as a second law that set aside 30 seats in parliament for women. These measures, which were later passed through parliament, became known as “Jehan’s laws”.

She was born Jehan Raouf in Cairo, into an upper-middle-class family, the third child of Safwat Raouf, an Egyptian surgeon, and his wife, Gladys Cotrell, a British music teacher, who had met in Sheffield when Safwat was studying medicine at the university. Jehan was raised as a Muslim, according to her father’s wishes, but she also attended a Christian secondary school for girls in Cairo.

She met Anwar at a summer party at her cousin’s house, not long after he was released from prison for the second time for his revolutionary activities; he was also recently divorced. The idealistic Jehan was impressed, despite her mother’s initial misgivings and the 15-year age gap. They married the following year, and went on to have four children.

In 1977 Anwar flew to Jerusalem to propose a peace settlement to the Israeli Knesset, and the following year he signed the Camp David accords, the first peace treaty between an Arab nation and Israel, with the prime minister Menachem Begin and the US president Jimmy Carter. Jehan, who was a far more visible first lady than President Nasser’s wife had been, later made a point of saying that she had stood by her husband even though the peace agreement was highly controversial in Egypt.

Jehan Sadat interviewed by Barbara Walters

While he had believed that the affection of the armed forces for him was such that they could not be infiltrated by militant Islamists, she later told the BBC: “I knew that he would be killed.” She begged him to wear a bullet-proof vest but he refused, and was proud of the new uniform that he had had designed for a military march-past on the outskirts of Cairo.

When people were looking up at the Egyptian air force planes flying in formation and doing aerobatics, Jehan noticed an army truck pulling out of the line of artillery vehicles and stopping in front of the reviewing stands. Then she saw soldiers with machine-guns running towards the stands. Her husband stood up, was riddled with bullets, and fell. The glass through which she and her grandchildren were watching was likewise splintered by bullets, and her bodyguard pushed her to the ground.

Jehan spoke of the shock of losing the man who was not only “my beloved husband whom I loved all my life, but … my partner”.

Her aspiration to higher education had eventually been realised, with a BA (1977) in Arabic literature and an MA (1980) in comparative literature at Cairo University, and she followed these with a PhD (1986). In later years she was a visiting professor at several US universities, and continued to promote international peace and women’s rights. A second book, My Hope for Peace, followed in 2009.

She is survived by her three daughters, Lubna, Noha and Jehan, her son, Gamal, and 11 grandchildren.

Jehan Sadat, women’s rights campaigner, human rights activist and writer, born 29 August 1933; died 9 July 2021

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