Rome eyes buildings confiscated from mafia to house migrants

  • Aug. 29, 2017 2:16 p.m.

Rome authorities are looking into whether buildings confiscated from the mafia can be used to house migrants, a move that comes after police were criticized for the violent clashes that erupted as they tried to evacuate a building occupied by asylum-seekers.

Mayor Virginia Raggi said city officials were mapping out the confiscated real estate to determine if any buildings were suitable for temporary housing. A first census of the 200,000 potentially available apartments is due by Oct. 31, Raggi said in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Rome authorities and police have come under withering criticism after officers used water cannons against asylum-seekers last week. The migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Ethiopia, had camped out on a central piazza after being evicted from a building they had occupied since 2013.

Police said the raids were necessary because the migrants had cooking gas canisters and other flammable materials.

The U.N. refugee agency denounced the evictions, especially when adequate alternative housing arrangements weren’t provided.

Raggi defended the police action Tuesday and said the city wouldn’t tolerate illegal squatters. She estimated that squatters had occupied about 100 buildings around the capital.

Raggi insisted she had worked to improve the situation, but her year-old administration has been unable to make good on many campaign pledges to fix Rome’s worsening public services, from garbage pileups to potholes.

Rome’s housing crunch predated Raggi’s tenure, with poor families waiting for years on lists for affordable housing and an active squatting movement taking over abandoned buildings.

The debate over the police eviction — which has dominated Italian headlines for a week — came as Rome welcomed the latest wave of legal asylum-seekers.

A group of 33 Syrian refugees arrived Tuesday at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport, courtesy of a Christian initiative to provide refugees with humanitarian visas and safe passage to Italy as an alternative to risky boat trips from Libya.

The refugees, who had been living in camps in Lebanon, will be given free housing by the Catholic Sant’Egidio Community.

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