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Migrants in Rome evicted from office block as UN voices concern

More than 600,000 people from Africa, Asia and the Middle East have arrived in Italy over the last three years. The eviction of 800 migrants from a former office block in central Rome left some sleeping on the streets.

The Italian capital is usually quiet and relatively empty in August as most residents are on their annual vacations. 

On Saturday, 500 law enforcement officers were deployed to evict the 800 migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Ethiopia, who had been squatting in the 1950s-era former office building near the Termini central rail station.

They were placed on buses and taken away for identification. Some people did try to block the street toward the station, but police reinforcements were brought in to be deployed against protesters.

Other people locked out of the building, which has been bought for redevelopment, spent the night on the square surrounded by their suitcases.

The building had been occupied by squatters since 2013, and in 2015 a judge ordered their eviction. 

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, voiced concern and called for a solution: "UNHCR hopes local and national authorities can find an immediate solution for the people currently sleeping under the stars and ensure adequate integration measures for those with a right to international protection," the UNHCR office in Italy said in a statement on Sunday.

An election issue

While human rights groups criticized the eviction, some politicians placed it within the context of Italy's migration policy. Senator Stefano Pedica of the center-left Democratic Party called for the migrants to be moved to "more decent" premises.

"We have to continue down this road, enforcing the law and no longer allowing anyone to occupy public or private buildings," he said.

Immigration is a main issue on Italy's political agenda and there are general elections due next year. After a rise in migrant arrivals from Libya at the beginning of the year, they have decreased by 4 percent year-on-year, with about 97,000 people reaching Italy, mainly from Libya. 

Migrants aboard a boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa

Migrants aboard a boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa

Working with Libya

Italy has helped authorities in Libya train members of the coastguard and upgrade the fleet to stop people-smugglers from bringing passengers over the Mediterranean in dangerous boats.

Interior Minister Marco Minniti said last week: "It was important to intervene on the other side of the Mediterranean and we have focused on Libya. It seemed difficult, but it now appears that something is moving," he added. Last year, more than 11,000 migrants arrived in the first two weeks of August, while this year over the same period, the number fell to 2,000. The number of migrant arrivals in Spain has increased. 

Italy has also sought to curb the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) rescuing migrants in the sea and a number have halted their operations.

jm/kl (APF, dpa)

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