August 21, 2017 / 3:39 PM / 3 years ago

Refugees in Rome protest eviction, seek help from city hall

ROME (Reuters) - Dozens of refugees on Monday protested their eviction from a central Rome office building where they had been squatting for years in the latest example of tension as authorities deal with an influx of migrants.

Refugees sit on a kerb next to a police van, after being forcibly removed from a building where they had been living, in central Rome, Italy, August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Some 800 people lived in the six-storey building a block from the capital’s main train station for five years until they were booted out by police early on Saturday. They have since camped outside hoping the city will find them a new home.

More than 600,000 boat migrants have arrived in Italy from North Africa since 2014. Since the European Union struck a deal with Turkey last year to curb the Balkan route, Italy has again become the main route for migrants headed to Europe. Some 200,000 asylum seekers now stay in state-run shelters.

With no place to go after Saturday’s evictions, hundreds slept on the ground in the square in front of the building with their belongings packed in trash bags and suitcases.

On Monday, police accompanied some of the former inhabitants — most of whom are Eritrean and have been granted asylum — to collect things left behind, including TVs and clothes. A banner outside read: “We are refugees, not terrorists.”

“The other day police arrived by helicopter, the stairs and in the road and they forcefully chucked us all out and took us to the police station,” said Simon Tesfamichael, an 40-year-old Eritrean with a prosthetic leg.

Tesfamichael was evicted with his wife and two children. After checking their paper work, police released them and they returned to the square in front of the building

“We have political asylum, we are refugees,” he said.

Rome has no state-run shelters for refugees. Only those in the process of seeking asylum are given food and lodging, forcing hundreds of migrants to sleep outside near the Tiburtina train station because they have no money to pay rent and there is nowhere for them to go.

Now several hundred more people, including some 150 women and children and many disabled people, have no place to go, said Sonia Manzi, a Rome resident and a volunteer who hands out meals to migrants sleeping at the Tiburtina station.

“The city has no place to send them,” Manzi said as she stood alongside the protesters.

After hundreds slept outside Saturday night, police allowed women and children onto the first floor. On Monday, a half dozen young children shouted out the window to police below: “We want a home!”

A delegation of the evicted refugees met city officials on Monday. In a statement, the city government said it would “give absolute priority” to trying to help out families, the elderly and the disabled.

The statement made no promise about lodging but said the city will seek to count all those who lived in the building and to keep in contact with them.

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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