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"Gypsy travellers have been part of the Scottish landscape for centuries"
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Wednesday, 27 June, 2001, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Gypsy travellers win status move
Travellers' camp
The plight of travellers was highlighted
A high-powered committee of MSPs has called for Scotland's travelling people to be recognised as a distinct ethnic minority.

The move follows an extensive inquiry by the Scottish Parliament's equal opportunities committee which found evidence of harassment and institutional discrimination.

MSPs agreed that travelling people, commonly referred to a gypsies, should have the same human rights as everyone else.

During their inquiries and visits to sites, MSPs were shocked to find that some doctors refuse to register or treat gypsy travellers and that bullying at school was common.

It is no surprise that one GP said the average life expectancy is 55

SNP member Kay Ullrich
Women are denied access to health screening while children often miss out on immunisation programmes, the committee heard.

Committee convener Kate MacLean said that travelling people should be regarded as a distinct ethnic minority group and so have the same fundamental rights and responsibilities as other minorities.

The committee's report says that until there is a test case and court ruling on whether gypsy travellers are a racial group under the 1976 Race Relations Act, they should be treated by officialdom as if they had that status.

"Rather than wait for that test case to happen, our basic premise would ensure that fundamental rights already guaranteed for other minorities by law would be extended in practice to gypsy travellers," said Ms MacLean.

The report makes a total of 37 recommendations on how gypsy travellers should be treated by public and official bodies.

Site improvement programmes

Ms MacLean said: "It acknowledges we have a problem and takes a first step in addressing that problem."

Among the report's recommendations are that all legislation and policies should be framed on the basis that gypsy travellers have distinct ethnic characteristics.

Site improvement programmes for gypsy travellers should be developed in consultation with them, and private sites should be subject to the regulations and standards applying to council-provided sites.

Evidence to the inquiry and visits by MSPs showed some council sites to be badly located, with inadequate facilities and restrictive rules, said the report.

It acknowledges we have a problem and takes a first step in addressing that problem

Committee convener Kate MacLean
Councils should appoint designated gypsy traveller liaison officers, and there should be better schooling provision.

Anti-bullying strategies should include gypsy travellers as a distinct ethnic group, health workers should be more aware of their needs, and the police should have guidance in working with gypsy travellers.

MSPs visited a total of nine sites during their inquiry, and an SNP member of the committee, Kay Ullrich, told of seeing cold and uninsulated "amenity blocks" with the bare minimum of facilities.

"That is the sort of thing that combines with the limited access they have to healthcare, and it is no surprise that one GP said the average life expectancy is 55," she said.

distinct ethnic identity

The Scottish Gypsy Travellers Association (SGTA) welcomed the findings of the report.

A spokesman said: "Since 1994 the SGTA has fought against the discrimination that gypsy travellers face and has campaigned for the recognition of their distinct ethnic identity within Scotland.

"The inquiry process has given gypsy travellers a valuable opportunity to make their voices heard at the parliamentary level and the subsequent report represents one of the SGTA's most significant achievements to date."

Mark Kennedy, vice chairman of the SGTA, said: "We are delighted that there has at last been recognition of the social exclusion, discrimination and harassment which gypsy travellers face on a daily basis.

"We strongly hope that the Scottish Executive, local authorities and service providers will take urgent action on these recommendations to improve the lives of gypsy travellers."

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See also:

18 Jun 01 | Europe
Soros scholarships for gypsies
11 Aug 99 | Northern Ireland
'New deal' pledge to travellers
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