The increase in immigration in the 1970’s, especially from Surinam, gave rise to new policies in relation to minorities in the Netherlands. A report entitled Ethnic Minorities was produced by the Advisory Council on Government Policy in 1979, which acknowledged the existence of a multicultural society, the need for integration alongside the preservation of cultural identity. A further development followed with the 1983 Minorities Memorandum, which included among the target population Roma and Woonwagenbewoners. Policies were directed at improving education (interculturalism), health, accommodation and employment. Efforts were also made to combat discrimination and in 1995 the National Anti-Racism Bureau (LBR) was established. In 1994 an Equal Treatment Commission was established to provide minority groups with a mechanism for challenging discrimination. In 1996 a Forum was established bringing together various groups involved with minorities on welfare issues. Traveller organisations have expressed some concern that their specific concerns may be lost in the government’s tendency to lump all minorities together.
In the Netherlands, despite the clear recognition of multi-culturalism and valuable developments in intercultural education, there have been strong assimilationist tendencies at work in relation to Travellers, as evidenced in the restrictions on nomadism and the social control mechanisms associated with integration policies and procedures.
The disadvantaged circumstances of the 1500 members of the Traveller community in Northern Ireland have been documented in a growing number of reports by statutory and voluntary agencies from the 1980’s on. The social exclusion of Travellers is well-documented and, in addition, reports by human rights bodies have drawn attention to the existence of both individual level and institutional level racism, this latter manifestation being evident in the differential access experienced by Travellers in relation to the range of statutory services.
In the mid-1980s legislation was introduced empowering, but not obligating, local councils to provide serviced sites for Travellers. These arrangements are in stark contrast to those for the accommodation of homeless people from the majority sedentary community, which is mandatory. The new law also gave councils the power, through ‘designation’, to impose a quota of Travellers allowed to live legally in their area. Following the establishment of this framework for provision, some 68% of Travellers now live on authorised sites with 30% still living on roadside camps without any facilities. However, given the small size of the Traveller population this represents a very slow rate of progress during the last 12 years. All the sites have been built in the face of public and political opposition. The overwhelming majority of sites constructed are sub-standard, providing a bleak environment of concrete, arranged in high-density fashion.
Most media coverage of Travellers tends to be negative and focuses on evictions, hostile comments from politicians or intra-community violence. The provincial newspapers are often one-sided in their coverage without any attempt to give a platform to the views of Travellers or their support groups.
Recently and for the first time, since Northern Ireland was not covered by the British 1976 Race Relations Act, Travellers have been specifically named as a group entitled to receive redress against discrimination under the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. The two main political parties belonging to the Unionist tradition – the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party – opposed the inclusion of Travellers in the Order. The 1997 Order is also significantly flawed in a number of ways. These included an inordinately high burden of proof required of those alleging discrimination, the lack of legal aid and the emphasis on individual rather than group redress.
Equality-proofing measures (with specific reference to ethnic identity) known as the Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment guidelines (PAFT) are supposed to inform both the policy-making process and service provision of government agencies. However a review of services to Travellers commissioned by the government in 1995 concluded that it was not possible to assess the impact of the PAFT guidelines or recent initiatives to improve access for Travellers to education and healthcare, because government departments did not systematically collate data on Travellers. This finding suggests that these departments have not been particularly concerned with the application of the PAFT guidelines to the Traveller community. The existence of the PAFT guidelines has failed to prevent an attempt