For others, the episode stands as a vivid demonstration of how Italy — and Rome, especially, saddled with a chronic housing crisis — has too many migrants to deal with already, even as arrivals from across the Mediterranean have significantly dropped this summer.
“Everything around the eviction touched a nerve,” said Judith Sunderland, a Europe spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch. “Political parties in Italy are capitalizing and nurturing a nativist response, which comes out very clearly in issues like public or decent affordable housing.”
For well over a decade, hundreds of asylum seekers have illegally occupied dozens of buildings throughout Rome. For many of them, receiving virtually no government assistance, it is the only viable alternative to living on the streets.
At the same time, more than 10,000 people in the capital are waiting to be assigned public housing, the city’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, told reporters on Friday. Many have waited for years.
The eviction was decided in 2015 after a tribunal sided with the owners, who had been trying for two years to get back the seven-story building near Rome’s central train station. Neither Italian officials nor a representative for the management firm could say why the eviction had taken place last month.
The decision for the police to carry out the eviction was made by a provincial committee responsible for security, after the residents resisted the order to abandon the building.
After dozens of the squatters then camped in the gardens in front of the building, on Aug. 24 about two dozen police officers wearing riot gear used water cannons to disperse them. The confrontation quickly degenerated into what the Italian news media described as “urban warfare.”
The ensuing scuffles sent five people to the hospital and left 13 others requiring medical treatment. The police said that four people were being investigated for violent resistance, including throwing a gas canister and rocks at officers.
For those evicted, the future is now uncertain. Some moved to other illegally occupied buildings. Others had been living in Piazza Venezia, close to City Hall, and protesting their eviction.
Ahmad Al Rousan, who works for Doctors Without Borders and was present at the eviction, said its effect on the migrants was “also psychological.”
“It was another shock, after the difficulties of crossing the Mediterranean, knowing that they could face death,” he said. “They told us, ‘We are refugees, we’ve asked the state to protect us,’ so the eviction was another trauma.”
Italian officials say that alternative housing was offered to the migrants before the eviction, but that they rejected it. Solutions are still being sought, officials say, including possibly placing the migrants in hotels temporarily or housing them in buildings confiscated from Italy’s organized crime gangs.
Mayor Raggi said on Friday that she had asked Interior Minister Marco Minniti whether unused military barracks might be made available.
But Migrant rights groups have said that the alternatives offered were insufficient and in some case far from social networks like schools, where some migrants’ children had already been integrated.
The eviction has raised broader questions about the thousands of refugees who live in occupied buildings in Rome and other Italian cities where public housing falls far short of demand.
Migrants in Italy are given some assistance in the first months after arriving, but get little more after receiving refugee status. There is no formal integration program for them.
“Many of the residents of these occupied buildings have been in Rome for years, but have had no system of assistance,” said Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in Italy. “They are left to themselves.”
She argued that refugees who have lived in Italy for years “should have the same rights as Italians when it comes to housing, but instead we hear the slogan ‘Italians first,’ and they remain in the margins.”
Others cast doubt on the innocence of some of those who had been squatting in the building. Last year, the police arrested several Eritreans who were living in the building and accused them of human trafficking. A trial is expected to start this month.
Rome prosecutors were also investigating whether some of the residents had been aiding and abetting illegal migration.
Ms. Sami met with Mayor Raggi on Thursday to discuss the what to do with those who have been evicted, “because it is the most immediate emergency.” She said that the mayor was “very open to collaborating,” but that there was “no certain response.”
Alem Adhanom, 28, from Eritrea, who has been in Italy four years, said on Monday that representatives of the evicted group had met with city and interior ministry officials, but were not satisfied with the offered solutions.
“They wanted to send us to reception centers,” where migrants who first arrive in Italy usually stay for two to six months, he said. “But a lot of people have been here for eight or 10 years. How can you go back to the beginning again?”
He said they hoped to receive more permanent housing or to be able to leave Italy and try their luck elsewhere, though under European Union law asylum seekers must stay in the country they first enter.
For the evicted migrants, the most immediate problem to solve was shelter.
“We have children sleeping here,” Mr. Adhanom said, pointing to the gravelly ground of the camp off Piazza Venezia. “And now we don’t even have a tent.”
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