Palazzo Selam, ‘The Palace of Peace’, is reported as being the largest European refugee ‘ghetto’ and currently houses a 1,000 of Italy’s refugees and migrants. The Palace of Peace is a former administrative building to Rome’s state Tor Vergata University. The historic squat has been in occupation for over ten years. The concrete block is situated near the Romanian neighbourhood in east Rome. To stand outside and look in, the building is square and dominant in size, spread over eight stories. The exterior is panelled with square panes of glass, and battered television aerials hang from the windows. To be stood on the inside is to see a “makeshift community”; people forced together through requisite. To look out beyond the buildings square windows, is to feel the cold shoulder of a city struggling to accommodate.
The Palace of Peace is just one visual example of many informal settlements across Rome. The abandoned building embodies Italy’s failure to provide any long-term solution to a growing crisis. As Italy has gone to the polls, many of Rome’s roughly 180,000 refugees and migrants, could be faced with the bleak reality of forced evictions and mass deportations. Deportations entered political rhetoric throughout the election campaign. Acting tough on immigration and improving Italy’s fragile economy has been top of the political agenda. The Gryphon explores the preliminary results of the March 4th elections and the uncertain future of Rome’s increasingly marginalised refugees and migrants.
As Italy went to the polls on March 4th, most of the political parties shared a common and mainstream agenda that Italy must act tough on immigration. From the right-wing nationalist party Northern League or Lega in Italian, the southern equivalent Brother of Italy, to the populist Five Star Movement and the centre-right Forza Italia lead by Silvio Berlusconi; protecting Italy’s shores has dominated the political agenda. Even the centre-left Democratic Party, elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2017, have been seen to act tough on immigration. The controversial Libyan agreement, between Italy, the European Union and Libya, came into place in February and has restricted travel across the Mediterranean and subjected many to detention in Libya’s migrant “prisons”. The agreement with Libya proves that, on immigration, the political centre has somewhat shifted.
“The forced evictions — with often no solutions in place for relocation— have resulted in further marginalisation”
As for preliminary election results, populist anti-establishment, Eurosceptic and anti-immigration parties surged. The Democratic Party has been defeated with only 18.9% of the vote. Forza Italia gained 13.9% of the vote, leaving Berlusconi’s party short of the authority needed to form a grand coalition. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, gained 32.22% of the vote. Similarly, anti-immigration Northern League party gained a strong nationwide vote with 17.69%. Therefore, party leader Matteo Salvini will have the strongest hand in the right-wing coalition (including the League, Forza Italia and Brother of Italy) and will play a crucial role in further negotiations to form a government. Although the results did not give a majority to any single party; coalition-building is now to be watched eagerly. An unlikely alliance between the Five Star Movement and the Northern League, is being speculated widely across news media sources. A second edition of the ‘Out of Site’ report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) described flaws in the country’s reception system, such as slow turnover and a prolonged asylum application process, which caused “structural distress of the system.” Living conditions are deplorable for many leaving the reception system, and essential services often fail to be reached. The MSF report notes 10,000 people to be living in inhumane conditions. Many living in informal settlements across Rome, now also face the reality of forced evictions, pushing the City’s refugee and migrants further into the fringes of society. The forced evictions — with often no solutions in place for relocation— have resulted in further marginalisation.
“the removal of 800 Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees — many of whom gathered in protest outside of the building they had called home for four years prior — as “shocking”. Sunderland questioned if the physical force used by police to clear the protest was “necessary and proportionate”.”
The notorious evacuation of the Via Curtatone building was part of three large-scale evictions in 2017. Judith Sunderland director at Human Rights Watch reports that the removal of 800 Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees — many of whom gathered in protest outside of the building they had called home for four years prior — as “shocking”. Sunderland questioned if the physical force used by police to clear the protest was “necessary and proportionate.” Social media footage from the event does advocate the force used against these vulnerable people protesting in the Piazza Indipendenza was neither necessary nor proportionate. The occupants of the Palace of Peace squat are documented, and none are reported as being economic migrants, notes Donatella D, Angelo, a resident volunteer that provides medical services at the Palace of Peace. The City declared the occupation illegal in 2007. D, Angelo notes “many point out that we are not in the city centre and this is not the ‘jewel’ of Via Curtatone”. She speaks of a “constant fear” that stains the future of many at the Palace of Peace.
Fear that further large-scale evictions is a reality for many displaced people across Rome. The Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, an official of the Five Star Movement, positioned the evictions publicly as an act of resilience against the “strong migratory presence and the continuous flow of foreign citizens”. The Five Star Movement’s anti-immigration rhetoric, has been more ambiguous than that of the Northern League, the opposing victor of the March 4 th election. However, central characters to the anti-elitist party – such as Virginia Raggi and the parties’ leader Luigi Di Maio – have aligned the parties stance on immigration closer to that of the Northern League in the wake of polling. Party leader ,Luigi Di Maio, accused humanitarian aid working to rescue migrants off the coast of Libya as “running a taxi service.” Both parties stance on immigration could make the concept of an unlikely coalition every bit more possible. All whilst making the future of the makeshift community housed in the Palace of Peace an impossible one to predict.
[Images: Kate Stansworth on africanarguments.org]