24 August 2017, The Tablet

Rome Caritas blames police for violent removal of refugees

Almost 200 of the refugees expelled from the building have been sleeping on the streets since 19 August

Rome Caritas blames police for violent removal of refugees

While government officials had an obligation to find a safe and dignified alternative for housing some 800 refugees squatting in an abandoned building in the centre of Rome, the way police went about it led to violence, Rome's Caritas agency has said.

Police evicted hundreds of refugees from the building on 19 August. About 100 people, mostly Eritreans and Ethiopians with official refugee status, had been camping in a public square outside the building since then.

When police went back on 24 August to clear the square near Rome's main train station, violence erupted. Police said they were forced to use water cannons after the refugees started throwing things at them and hitting them with sticks.

Caritas, the Rome diocese's official charitable organisation, said everyone knew that something needed to be done about the building, which had been occupied by the refugees since 2013. Living conditions inside were dangerous and unhygienic, Caritas said.

But "the way in which this happened, without any planning and acting as if it was an emergency, could do nothing other than lead to the escalation we saw this morning," the Caritas statement said.

The humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders, which has had a medical team in the square since 19 August, said 13 refugees were treated for injuries, and five of them were sent to the hospital by ambulance, after the police action on 25 August.

Humanitarian groups said the refugees had refused to leave the square because they wanted to stay close to their family members - the roughly 100 women, children and elderly refugees the police had allowed to stay inside the building.

"Because of the high number of people involved, the presence of children and family groups and the history of suffering and violence these people have endured, an intervention of this kind required specific social interventions" as part of a larger program regarding emergency and long-term housing for at-risk populations in the city, Caritas said.

"Unfortunately, as the 'Mafia Capitale' facts demonstrate, these policies have been lacking in our city for years, and groups and organisations profit from it," the statement said. "Mafia Capitale" refers to a scandal involving city officials giving organised-crime rings contracts to provide city services, including for housing refugees, which they never provided or were grossly substandard.

PICTURE: Women refugees shout next to Italian riot police after they were evicted from a palace in the centre of Rome, Italy on 24 August. Around 800 people were evicted from a Rome building used mainly by asylum seekers and refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia. Almost 200 people expelled from the building have been sleeping on the streets since August 19

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