AFP - France will on Thursday begin expelling around 700 Roma rounded up as part of a summer clampdown on members of the minority living illegally in the country, officials said.
Seventy-nine Roma who have agreed to return home voluntarily in exchange for 300 euros (385 dollars) for adults and 100 euros for minors will board a charter flight bound for the Romanian capital Bucharest on Thursday, said Immigration Minister Eric Besson.
"In all, around 700 Roma will be taken back to their countries before the end of the month," Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told journalists in the southeastern city of Toulon on Tuesday.
He said that so far police had dismantled 51 illegal Roma camps and that two flights would take the Roma to Romania and Bulgaria on August 19 and 26, with a third flight set for the end of September.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has in recent weeks launched a major and controversial crackdown on France's Roma, Gypsy and traveller minorities, closing unauthorised camps and expelling foreign-born Roma from the country.
Last month, following a clash between Gypsies and police, Sarkozy announced a raft of new stringent security measures, including plans to dismantle 300 unauthorised campsites within three months.
Critics accused the French leader of stigmatising travelling minorities in a bid to recover votes lost to the anti-immigration far right in time for his re-election battle in 2012.
But opinion polls show most French voters approve of the measures.
Besson said the flights are nothing new, adding that Thursday's will be the 25th of this year to Romania and Bulgaria.
"There are no special flights to Romania. These are part of regular procedures of returning foreigners who are not in France legally to their country of origin," said the minister.
There are estimated to be 15,000 Gypsies and Roma of eastern European origin in France. Some live in authorised encampments, and others have moved into squatter camps or abandoned buildings.