The doors of the hulking building on the corner of Via Curtatone and Piazza Indipendenza are now shut; the handles lashed together with heavy chains and secured by padlocks. At the front entrance, a brief walk from Rome’s main train station, three plain-clothed security officers stand guard at metal barricades and follow the movement of passersby from behind dark sunglasses. Without speaking a word, their message is clear: This building is off limits.
For six days in August, the former government research centre and the piazza next door were the setting of a showdown between refugees squatting in the building and Roman authorities. The tense standoff culminated in the eviction of around 800 people from the illegally occupied building and violent clashes between residents and police that dramatically highlighted the government’s failure to integrate refugees and asylum seekers into Italian society.
Thousands of refugees like them in Italy’s capital also live in occupied buildings and makeshift homes. Instead of receiving support, they are left on their own to figure out ad hoc solutions to services that should be provided by the state. Despite this cold reception, a record breaking 120,000 people applied for asylum in Italy last year. With its northern borders closed, and the EU’s Dublin Protocol – which requires people to apply for protection in the country where they first arrived – fully enforced, most people have nowhere else to go.
The fate of the refugees evicted from the building on Via Curtatone – and of other people living in squats in Rome – is a stark testament to the long-term challenges new asylum seekers will face unless Italy is able to improve its integration policies.
In the aftermath of the eviction and violence, some residents of Via Curtatone ended up homeless on the streets of Rome; others went to live with family and friends, often in other squats; and a small number of vulnerable people were given space in reception centres for newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers, even though they had already been living in Italy for years. But a large majority – around 600 people – left altogether and headed to countries in northern Europe. After years of marginalisation and neglect, they gave up on the possibility of building stable lives in a country where they received little support and now felt antagonised by authorities.
Trapped as irregular migrants
The occupation of the building on Via…