In October 2008 around 80 people with the status of political refugees occupied the Clinica San Paolo, a former private clinic located in Corso Peschiera 178 in Turin. The occupation was organised in order to respond to the emergency of housing political refugees on the Municipality’s housing waiting list. “Once obtained the refugee status, these people are forgotten. Without money, without a job, without knowing the local language. The government should allocate further resources for the refugees’ integration.” The High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman said after she had visited another building squatted by refugees located in Via Bologna, Turin.
Article 10 of the Italian Constitution recognizes the right to asylum. At present, 12,440 refugees of 40 different nationalities live in the country1. What is more, Italian shores are the arrival place for most asylum seekers who flee their country looking for a better life in Europe. Frequency of boat arrivals (20,271 during the first 7 months of 20082) and overcrowded Removal Centres3 (the Removal Centre in Lampedusa alone hosts 1800 immigrants for a capacity of 800 beds4) have exacerbated management problems and emergency solutions violate constitutional rights. In fact, in order to tackle the situation in Lampedusa, Minister of Interiors Roberto Maroni proposed to open another Removal Centre on the small Sicilian island and to repatriate all immigrants as soon as they arrive on its shores. This measure would deny immigrants the right to apply for a refugee’s status, thus neglecting the right to asylum. The Minister’s proposal heightened tension in the country and at the end of January 2009 around 1000 migrants left Lampedusa Removal Centre for a few hours and went in the streets to demonstrate for their rights. Local people supported the action: Lampedusa local government and the islands’ inhabitants organised a strike and also demonstrated against the Minister’s proposal. Indeed, they claimed, the island is already overcrowded and there are not even resources to manage the current Removal Centre, let alone setting up a new one.
“Do you know if I need a residence permit to get a sim card?” Abdi, a young Somali boy living in the clinic asks me. A permit of stay for refugees does not automatically give access to a residence permit and, in order to know their position on the Municipality waiting list, refugees must be reachable. Of course, it is not only a matter of having a mobile phone. Without a residence permit it is not possible to have an identity card, have access to a general practitioner, and so forget about opening a bank account.
The city of Turin is part of the SPRAR5 programme and there are bodies in charge of finding suitable housing and training for individuals enrolled on the programme. “There are great problems due to lack of planning and resources.” Deana, a volunteer operating in one of the associations of the SPRAR network said. “Emergency solutions have become permanent solutions. Beside the Municipality’s prompt reaction and the development of a network of associations working for the SPRAR programme, there are far more applications than places available.”
Surely the clinic would not have been occupied without the role of the “Solidarity Committee”, a group composed of individuals, associations, social workers and political activists. The Committee renovated the water and electric system and logistically supports the refugees as for access to health services and communication with the media and institutions. However, the situation has gone out of control and, although the occupation was planned for 80 people, at present there are almost 250 refugees living at the clinic in Corso Peschiera 178. There are even some people who have stepped out the official programme thinking they would be better off at the Clinica. The controversial role of the Committee is one of the reasons behind tensions with the Municipality. The Committee is in fact blamed for excessively influencing the refugees and for using the occupation as a “media shortcut”. “It is harder to work with refugees living in occupied buildings. There is less collaboration. Sometimes they refuse the little we offer them because they think it is not enough. But for now we can not provide them with more.” Deana added.
Most people living at the Clinica arrived by boat in Lampedusa and reached Turin after touring refugees’ centres in Italy and in Europe. Turin Administration claims receiving too great a number of applications and not having enough resources to meet all needs.
The current situation is stationary. “I don’t think the Municipality is going to expel them” Barbara, a nurse member of the Committee said. “There are no other solutions and the occupation allows institutions to gain time without the refugees sleeping in the streets. What we urgently demand is to grant refugees a residence permit.”
1 Most refugees come from the Balkans, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.
2 Data of the Ministry of Interiors.
3 Known in Italy as CIE: Identification and Removal Centres
4 Data of January 2009
5 Asylum Seekers and Refugees Protection Programme