Italian Police Inhumanly Treating Refugees in Piazza Indipendenza

Refugees being hosed by water canons in Rome
Refugees being hosed with water canon by Italian police in Rome

Human Rights Concern Eritrea strongly condemns the abuse suffered by the refugees who were removed from the building in via Curtatone in Rome and violently attacked by the police in Piazza Indipendenza.

On Saturday 19th August 2017, around 800 refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia were evicted from a building they had been living in for nearly four years. We received reports that all of the victims were people who had had their refugee status recognised, whose paperwork was in order and whose children attended local schools.

Having been given no alternative accommodation, around 150-200 of them slept in the nearby square, Piazza Indipendenza, with all their belongings. Others, mainly families with children, had moved back into the building for safety. On Wednesday, a few of them were approached about alternative accommodation and it seems some of them refused to be put 5 people in one room and in the suburbs of Rome, far from the centre where they worked and their children went to school. It is hard to conceive how within one day hundreds of people were expected to convene, elect representatives, negotiate alternatives and come to an agreement among themselves first and then with Fondo Omega (the organisation which owned the building and rendered them homeless in the first place) which was proposing this take-it-or-leave-it offer.

At the crack of dawn the next day, Thursday 24th August, police arrived at 6 a.m. to remove them violently from the square on which they slept. While it is true some of them protested at the attack, the police showed no mercy in attacking children, disabled people with crutches and vulnerable adults. Some of the police chased the refugees from street to street. One police commander was recorded telling his men to “break their arms” if they threw anything. Medicins San Frontiers has reported that it had to treat 13 refugees for injuries.

The refugees had to face armoured police, teargas and being water-hosed, but we ask why? Were they a militant group attacking the police? Were they people rioting with weapons? No, they were innocent families, children and disabled people who were living peacefully when the police suddenly showed up at their doors to render them homeless, forcefully removing them and all their belongings without warning or offering them alternative accommodation.

The way refugees were treated in Piazza Indipendenza was abhorrent and lacking any indication of a concern for their humanity. We are aware that there is a housing crisis in Italy that affects both refugees and Italians who were born and raised there. However, people who flee from an oppressive regime like that of the Eritrean government accused of crimes against humanity arrive vulnerable and desperate. They will have suffered violence, torture and trauma on their way to a safe place.

We are concerned by the possibility of further violence and ill treatment of vulnerable refugees because the clearance of squatters appears to be an initiative the authorities had planned and intend to continue. If the events of this past week are any indication there is still a chance of more unrest for the refugees. Therefore, we urge the Italian government to address the issue constructively and offer real solutions to people who, being new to the country and not having the necessary network and tools to easily fend for themselves, are most at risk and in need of basic humanitarian provisions.

We applaud the UNHCR’s request for a solution and echo the need to find urgent accommodation and care for the people who have suffered abuse and violence merely for trying to secure for themselves one of the most basic human needs: shelter.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)