After the evacuation of a building occupied by migrants in Rome's Piazza Indipendenza, dozens of people are sleeping in the streets. Only families considered vulnerable have been allowed to stay.
Suitcases, sheets and cardboard boxes litter the area. Some people are lying on the ground, some are sitting on the pavement and others are washing themselves at a fountain or just trying to cool down amid the summer heat.
Dozens of migrants have been sleeping on the streets since Saturday, after the squat they were living in was evacuated by police on August 19. The building they had been living in was in Piazza Indipendenza, near the main train station. Eyewitnesses and activists say that 800 people were there at the time of the operation, including men, women and children, mostly Ethiopians and Eritreans. Almost all are asylum seekers or refugees or have been granted international protection papers.
No alternative to the streets
"They arrived at 5 AM when we were sleeping. They entered our homes and told us to leave," Matos, 29, said. Those present at the scene said the operation was carried out without sparking any violent incidents. Several children were among those evacuated and left the building with their schoolbags on their shoulders.
"I am a refugee from Eritrea," Matos told Italian news agency ANSA. Once they were pushed out of the building, the migrants were taken to the immigration office in Rome for identification purposes. "After the checks, they left us without any other alternative," he added. Some went to other squats or friends' homes, but Matos said he slept on the streets in the hope that someone would help him.
Only those in particularly vulnerable situations - 64 adults and 35 children - were authorized to spend the night in the building while waiting for a solution to be found for them. "I work. I have an official contract. We are all legal here. We are not terrorists," Bereket, 37, said. He had been living in the building since it was first occupied in 2013 and has been granted international protection.
"The building had never been evacuated before and only checks had been conducted by the authorities," he explained, adding, "Where is the security in this? Whoever makes these decisions has failed politically."
'Treated like animals'
During the day, the square is filled with migrants, friends of those who have been evacuated and regular citizens and activists bringing food and comfort. There is also a line for those who want to re-enter the building to get their belongings.
After a meeting with a delegation of the evacuees, the Rome municipality started a roundtable discussion and announced that it will be holding a census of those who had been living in the building to understand who is in the worst situation and still sleeping in the street, and to find adequate solutions.
"We are treated worse than animals," said A., born in Ethiopia and now an Italian citizen. She had been living in the building with her two children, aged 9 and 10. She was not present at the time of the evacuation since she works as a caregiver for others' children.
"This is the country I want to live in, but I do not earn enough to pay rent. They wrote that there were criminals here, but where are they? These are all people who are trying to go forward. We are in a worse situation than in Africa," she lamented.