Actress Vanessa Redgrave said Tuesday a local authority's attempts to evict a group of Irish Travellers from a site where they have lived for years is a breach of their human rights.
The residents of Dale Farm, east of London, were told to leave voluntarily by Wednesday. They are refusing to move and local authorities may begin to forcibly evict them in the coming weeks.
Irish Travellers are similar but ethnically distinct from Gypsies or Roma. They have a nomadic heritage but now often settle in one place for several years. Some of the Travellers had lived legally at the site for decades, but local authorities said new arrivals who came in 2001 did not have the right permits to live there.
Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, said in a statement that the council has tried to avoid forcibly evicting the residents, but feels it now has no choice. He said the council does not object to their lifestyle, but says they have not complied with planning regulations at the site 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of London.
After lengthy legal battles, a British court said last month that around 240 people living on the site illegally had to leave within 28 days.
Redgrave, who has campaigned on behalf of Gypsies and Travellers around the world, visited the site Tuesday and said "lives will be ruined" if the move goes ahead.
"I am certain that the eviction of the Dale Farm Traveller families is illegal under international, mandatory, human rights conventions," she said. "Evicting these families would be totally unreasonable and irresponsible. The council has said there are no alternatives but there are alternatives," she added.