More than 500 people are being ousted from a refugee reception centre in a town close to Rome in the first major eviction since Italy’s rightwing populist government enacted hardline immigration measures into law.
Thirty people were evicted from the centre, the second-largest of its kind in Italy and the place where Pope Francis washed residents’ feet as part of his Easter ritual in 2016, in Castelnuovo di Porto on Tuesday. A further 75 were removed on Wednesday, with the remaining 430 to be evicted before the centre’s closure on 31 January.
The evictions follow the approval of the “Salvini decree”, named after Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and leader of the far-right League, in late November.
Salvini claimed the centre, which has hosted about 8,000 people over the last eight years, was a den for “drug-dealing and crime” and that the same fate would soon befall the 2,000 people living in the sprawling Cara di Mineo reception centre in in Sicily and at similar structures across Italy.
He said the closures would save the Italian government €6m (£5.2m) a year, money that would instead be spent “helping Italians”. “I did what any good father would have done,” he said.
Riccardo Travaglini, the mayor of Castelnuovo di Porto, told reporters that no notice was given before the evictions. Men, women and children, many enrolled in local schools, were reportedly separated before the majority were taken by bus to undisclosed destinations. Some were housed by local residents, including Travaglini, who took in a woman from Somalia and her child.
“In a single day, they managed to destroy years of (((work))),” Traviglini said. “These were people who had managed to become integrated.”
The opposition party’s (((Roberto Morassut))) compared the evictions to “deportations to Nazi concentration camps”. “One of the most important structures for immigrant reception was evacuated without adequate warning … it was a real blitz,” he said.
The majority of residents at the Castelnuovo di Porto centre were in the process of applying for asylum. Many had received humanitarian protection, a two-year permit granted to those who are not eligible for refugee status but who for various reasons cannot be sent home. Humanitarian protection status, which enables people to work and is estimated to be held by about 100,000 people, was abolished under Salvini’s bill.