French police today launched their biggest operation yet to smash up a Roma gypsy camp.
Around 500 officers moved on to a site at Saint-Priest, a suburb of the eastern city of Lyon, destroying makeshift huts and tents before rounding up residents including women and children.
Up to 180 gypsies viewed as illegal immigrants were arrested, with most now expected to be deported back to Romania.
It follows around 70 losing their temporary home in the Paris suburb of Evry on Monday, along with hundreds more in other major cities including Lille and Marseille earlier this month.
The so-called ‘evacuations’ are all part of a policy adopted by France’s new Socialist government to rid the country of migrant camps.
Today dozens of police vehicles moved on to the Saint-Priest site soon after dawn, prompting some of the Roma families to try and escape.
‘It’s the biggest Roma camp in the region,’ said a local human rights activist who asked to solely be identified by his first name of Jean-Philippe.
‘This is private property which has been served with a deportation order. The mayor of Saint-Priest wants it to be used for new buildings.’
Referring to ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative head of state who started the crackdown against the Roma gypsies, Jean-Philippe said: ‘What is happening now is worse than in the days of Sarkozy.’
Dozens of young children and newborn babies were among those being escorted of the site, as their parents were questioned by officers.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has linked Roma camps with crime, suggesting that many of the thieves and muggers operating in big cities are homeless Romanians.
Neighbours of the camps often complained about noise and anti-social behaviour, as well as serious crimes, said Mr Valls, who is known as the ‘Sarkozy of the Left’.
Humanitarian organisations have also linked the camps to ill health, including serious diseases such as tuberculosis.
Mr Sarkozy started a purge on Romas in the summer of 2010 in France, where up to 15,000 live.
In turn, Roma groups accused Mr Sarkozy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, pointing to the fact that gipsies had been targeted by the Nazis during the Second World War.
They said that the purge was all part of a generally racist strategy adopted by Mr Sarkozy against all foreign groups, including some six million Muslims living in France.
Romania has been a full member of the European Union since 2007, and its citizens can enter France without a visa.
But they must get residency permits if they want to settle long term and work.
Britain, like France, has transitional controls on Romanians seeking to settle in the UK.
Until next year only those Romanian migrants who have a job or can support themselves are allowed to stay in Britain.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has called for a European Council meeting to make decisions ‘at the European level’ on the Roma – many of whom also come from Bulgaria.
[Editor’s Note: Additional images and video are available at the original article link below.]