Credit: ANSA/Stefano Intreccialagli
Credit: ANSA/Stefano Intreccialagli

Hundreds of people, both migrants and Italians, are living in a former penicillin factory in Rome, amidst rubbish, unsafe structures, and highly dangerous chemical waste. They are calling on the city government to provide them with an alternative so they can leave the structure, which is an environmental hazard to both the structure's occupants and the area's residents.

On the outskirts of Rome, just a few kilometres off of Via Tiburtina, stands a former penicillin factory that was once a symbol of avant-garde Italian technology. Now, however, it is a derelict structure with about 600 people living inside. The illegal occupants are primarily foreigners and are living among rubbish, unsafe structures, and toxic industrial and chemical waste. 

Many of the occupants are African, but there are also some Italians. They held a media conference to demonstrate what it's like to live there, and called on the city government to provide them with an alternative living solution. The former factory is among the top structures on a list of 27 buildings most in need of evacuation. 

Situation at the edge of survival 

"This is a place where no one wants to live, but we have no alternative," said John, a 36-year-old Senegalese man who has been living in the former penicillin factory for a year. "We are going to be evacuated, and we don't want to oppose that, but on the condition that there is a better solution, an alternative, a roof under which we can sleep," he said. 

"After the evacuation, this will still be a derelict building in the neighbourhood, and it needs to be seized so that our administrators can take the structure over and undertake a reclamation of the structure," he said, adding that the building's occupants are willing to provide manual labour to do so. 

Conditions within the structure are on the edge of survival

Many occupants live in small shacks inside the skeletons of the buildings, among chemical waste and asbestos. During the press conference, the migrants told stories of what led them to live in the former factory. Some of them are refugees who are no longer provided for within the Italian reception system, others lost jobs, and others are illegal. 

Isa, from Sierra Leone, lost everything and was forced to live in the building as a shelter in order to avoid having to live on the street. Isa told the journalists she arrived in Italy in 1993 and always worked as a housekeeper in various Italian cities. "In 2015 I lost my job. I was married and we had bought a house, but then my husband left me after 12 years together," she said. "I tried to pay the mortgage on my own, but I couldn't do it. The bank took the house and that's why I live here. 

The situation is disgusting here, there's no peace," she said, in tears. "I don't sleep, I don't eat.Sometimes I don't remember what day it is. I'm going crazy. I only want a room, that's enough for me. We're asking for help, so we can get our heads right and start working again," she said. 

Appeal to the institutions 

To find a solution, the occupants have called for an inter-institutional roundtable meeting with the prefecture, the city, and the region. Union manager Aboubakar Soumahoro is lending his support. In recent months Soumahoro has helped migrant farm workers in Calabria. "They say 'Italians first', but there are even Italians here," Soumahoro said. "So that means poor people aren't part of that. Bulldozer politics create illegality," he said. 

Andrea Turchi, a retired chemist said that following its closure, the building was completely abandoned and now "the situation is terrible". Turchi said, "What I've seen goes beyond my imagination: disintegrated asbestos, medicines used as carpets for the shacks, open bottles of acid. ... This is a place unworthy of a city like Rome."

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