Violent evictions of refugees in Rome reveal inhumanity of modern democracy

“If they throw something, break their arm,” a police officer was overhead on video saying to anti-riot police on August 24 who were running after refugees and migrants near Rome’s central train station. The migrants were gathering there after police violently removed a group who had been occupying the city’s Piazza Indipendenza. Five days earlier, when around 800 Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants and refugees were forcibly evicted from a nearby squat on via Curtatone, some emptied out into the piazza with all their belongings and occupied it.

Unjustified and disproportionate state violence was exercised on these vulnerable people from dawn to dusk by the Italian police. They used tear gas, batons and water cannons to clear people from the square. It was a spectacle of violence and human misery: women crying out in protest were swept away by water cannons, children and elderly people wrapped in blankets had to run for safety.

Most of the 800 or so residents of the squat on via Curtatone were refugees. But there has been no safety for them, and no sanctuary for those who should be protected under international law. The authorities said the migrants had refused to accept alternative accommodation and pointed to the risk of cooking gas canisters they were using.

After the Piazza Indipendenza events, a mass protest took place in Rome on August 26, attended by over 5,000 people. A group of 40 elderly, sick and young refugees were subsequently permitted to return to the building for six months.

The violent manner of the original eviction was aimed at erasing the presence of migrants and refugees from the city centre: they apparently must disappear, become invisible in the name of public decorum and order. This is a war on migrants, on the poor, on the vulnerable, on those whose lives are precarious and disposable.

This eviction is part of several recent state interventions in Rome against refugees and migrants. In June, the city’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, announced that the city was “facing a new migrant emergency” and that it could not take new arrivals. This is a marked contrast to comments she made in December 2016 about the need to offer refugees human warmth in Rome.

As migration scholar Nando Sigona argued on The Conversation, this shift in approach was made within the context of pre-election political opportunism in Italy. The issue of migration is moving centre stage as parties look to woo…

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