Synod speaks out against Traveller hate crimes

by Michael Ford last modified 27 Feb, 2019 03:59 PM

The General Synod gave its backing to a call for the Church of England to speak out against racism and hate crime directed against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Synod speaks out against Traveller hate crimes

Revd Canon Jane Charman speaks at General Synod

The Church of England’s national assembly heard from a member of the English Gypsy community before it began a debate on tackling discrimination and prejudice against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Janie Codona, a member of the English Gypsy community, addressing the General Synod before the debate, spoke of discrimination she had first experienced aged only five years old. She said the discrimination against these groups ‘never goes away’.
“We have experienced discrimination within the Gypsy and Traveller community every day and we have got so we don’t even seem to notice it half the time,” she said.

“We don’t judge, we don’t demand apologies, we don’t say ‘oh don’t treat us that way’ because we think ‘What is the good? It is only going to happen again the next day.’

“But as time went on I realised that if we didn’t stand up as a community and we didn’t start saying ‘enough is enough’, it would never end.”

Speaking in the debate that followed, the Revd Canon Jane Charman, Diocesan Director of Learning for Discipleship and Ministry said:
“You may think of the Diocese of Salisbury as not very ethnically diverse. In fact, we have a significant minority ethnic population, our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population. We are one of only two dioceses with a chaplain to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.

“I think we may also be one of only one dioceses to have ordained a priest from that community!”

Read her whole speech here

Canon Charman went to say that she recently had the opportunity to visit a Traveller site near Salisbury and also to have conversations with some Romany Gypsies from our diocese.
“What I want to say to you is what they said to me.

“What do we mean when we talk about ‘the last acceptable form of racism’? We like to think of racism as something practised by other people, unpleasant people, people we disapprove of, but racism against Gypsies and Travellers is practised by nice people, respectable people, religious people, people like us. That is what emboldens the media to write about them in the way they often do.”

Canon Charman said the message from newspapers like a recent article in the Daily Mail, could not be clearer:
“The take home message was plain – Gypsies and Travellers, dirty trespassers. Days later on the front page of the Telegraph we read that ministers want to make trespass a criminal offence, a move targeted at travellers, who, lacking suitable sites, pull up on what used to be common land but is now privately owned.

“Then there were the ‘comments’. Don’t look at what’s below the line in online articles unless you have a strong stomach. I scrolled down through several dozen and they made me feel both sick and sad.

“Make no mistake, Gypsies and Travellers fear the orchestrated nature, the unspoken purposefulness, the cruel intention underlying all of this.”

She went on to tell Synod:
“Making space for Gypsies and Travellers is typically presented as a complex and intractable problem. People are astonished to learn that all of them could be accommodated on as little as one square mile of land.

“What’s lacking is not the means but the will and here the role of Chaplains is vital. If only more Chaplains could get to know these communities, earn their trust, understand their way of life, and advocate for their needs, not instead of but alongside them.

“Many Gypsies and Travellers are people of faith so we have a double duty to them, not just as fellow citizens but as fellow Christians.”

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, moving a motion before the General Synod, spoke of the ‘evil’ of all forms of racism – and how racism and prejudice against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities was still ‘tragically’ tolerated.

He cited research showing that nine out of ten Gypsy and Traveller children had experienced racial abuse and findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that discrimination against these groups is still ‘common, frequently overt and seen as justified.’

In the motion passed overwhelmingly by 265 votes in favour with one against, the General Synod voted to request that every Church of England diocese appoint a Chaplain to Gypsies, Travellers and Roma communities.

The motion also asks for the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council to evaluate the provision of sites for Gypsies and Travellers in wider housing policy and recommends Church bodies raise the need for this land.

Read Canon Charman's whole speech here

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