The importance of home has been in the spotlight this week, as the protracted struggle between the travellers of Dale Farm, and Basildon Council progressed towards it’s climax.
A home is simply not a commodity that can be replaced, compensated or exchanged. It means much more to us, a community, a family, a place of shelter.
To the council the land does not belong to the travellers, and it is politically expedient to move them on. Basildon’s residents do not tolerate the camp: they want them gone.
But the travellers won’t move. Even if they were offered adequate housing elsewhere (which they haven’t been) there is something about Dale Farm which they will fight to keep. It has history for them, memories, significance. It is home.
Forced evictions are identified by Amnesty International as one of the most frequent and serious abuses of human rights in the world. The issue is particularly serious in Africa.
Very often, the cause is rooted in so called economic progress. Land is wanted for development by a multinational company, the government for the sake of tourism or to be mined for oil. All that stands in the way of that progress is the people that live on it, and call it home.
In the conflict between these two interests, there is only ever one winner. The developer has vast sources of money to pour into the country. The government, eager for this money lend them the services of the police. Private security are brought in. Maybe even the army. Millions are spent on keeping it away from the media, justifying it, explaining it away.
There are a few parts of the world which are particularly prone to this. In the Niger Delta in Nigeria, an oil rich area mined extensively by Western companies, tribal groups often fined themselves moved on. So to in Ghana, to communities based close to proposed railway developments.
It is a practice which has been ongoing since the road building days of European colonialism and little has changed, except now the evictions are carried out by other Africans.
And it is not confined to Africa. In Haiti, it was recently revealed that a private landowner, one of the richest men in the country forcibly evicted refugee camps on his land. This after the horrors of the earthquake, the cholera epidemic and the years of crushing poverty these people had already endured.
In Sri Lanka, after the 2004 tsunami, fishing communities returned to the shore to find the government was moving them on to sell their land to tourist companies.
Considering the suffering this practice inflicts on entire communities it should be one of the most discussed and challenged human rights abuses. But, particularly in the West, it often isn’t.
Perhaps it is because the profits so often falls into the hands of Western corporations. If the rights of indigenous people to their land were respected globally, the exploitative march of multinational companies would come grinding to a halt. One way or another, controlling the land is the source of their money.
However, it has become evident that this practice is far from uncommon in the UK. Housing estates make way for property developers, and the people in them are forced out of their homes.
Ultimately, whether it is a UK property developer, an oil company in Nigeria, the Sri Lankan tourist industry, or Basildon councillors with their eye on the next election, they almost always have more power than the people standing against them, set to lose their homes.
But that isn’t how things should be. The right to a home should be protected as strongly as we protect rights to be free from torture.
Still, as inconvenient it may sometimes be, home is really is where the heart is.