The Dale Farm Travellers’ site will be cleared by Basildon council on Wednesday.

Currently around 500 people, made up of 86 families, including more than 100 children who live at the site will be evicted, with nowhere to go, as the council enforces planning controls.

However, the Travellers and a growing band of supporters say they are victims of discrimination and some even claim it is a form of ethnic cleansing.

Although the Travellers own the land, the site – alongside an authorised one – is on designated greenbelt land and it does not have planning permission.

The actress Vanessa Redgrave has condemned the council’s action as "illegal" and in breach of the families’ human rights.

The 74-year-old Unicef goodwill ambassador and political activist, was due to visit the Dale Farm campsite, in Essex, today to meet people being evicted.

She said: "I am certain that the eviction of the Dale Farm traveller families is illegal under international, mandatory, human rights conventions. I am appalled that such an eviction can be upheld by our Government."

Essex has 164 authorised pitches and 56 unauthorised pitches at Dale Farm, which in total, is a third of the county's total provision.

The travellers have been fighting removal from the unauthorised green belt site for the past six years. A camp was set up at the site over the weekend made up of 150 international supporters to protest against the eviction.

But the council has stated it still intends to push ahead with its decision.

A report from the Equalities Commission last year found that foot-dragging by local councils meant the five-year target for the provision of enough permanent sites to meet current demand to house travellers would take at least 16 years to achieve.

More than two-thirds of local authorities questioned had not increased the number of pitches available. The stalling has been put down to planning changes being introduced by the government.

Under the localism bill, the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, insists Travellers who "play by the rules" will get a fair deal. Travellers fear the dumping of regional targets and the new planning powers given to local councillors will mean fewer sites, and evidence so far suggests that in many

English councils, they are right.

Some local authorities are developing new approaches.

In 2007, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced a report that identified clear political leadership, good management of existing sites and an effective policy on new ones as the criteria for finding solutions. Above all, it called for a positive context for debate. There are successful models where councils hold training days not only for officials but for local reporters, and Travellers themselves are helped to set up their own sites.

But, after years of legal argument, the Dale Farm eviction is to go ahead, polarising opinion around the country.

Travellers are portrayed as a problem out of all proportion to the numbers involve, making it harder for local councils to sell the idea of creating legal, safe places for Travellers to live.