A scene of the clearance of the former penicillin factory on Via Tiburtina in Rome | Photo: ANSA / Peri Percossi
A scene of the clearance of the former penicillin factory on Via Tiburtina in Rome | Photo: ANSA / Peri Percossi

Police on Monday morning cleared the former penicillin factory on Via Tiburtina in Rome that had been illegally occupied for years. During the operation, authorities found 40 people still living there but 400 others had only recently left, after learning of the imminent clearance.

A long-awaited clearance took place in Rome on Monday morning, when authorities cleared the former penicillin factory that had been occupied for many years in the Italian capital. Dozens of armoured trucks descended on the site, and a stretch of Via Tiburtina was closed to traffic to allow the operation to take place. 

Authorities entered the structure just after 8 a.m. and found about 40 people still there. However, recent estimates put the actual number of residents just prior to the evacuation at 600 people, the majority of whom were from North Africa. "They all left in recent days," said a young man from Senegal. "Even I slept rough last night," he added. 

Challenging Salvini

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini conducted a site inspection at the former factory on the morning of the operation. Upon his arrival, a resident from the hill in front of the entrance called out: "Salvini, where were you before?" Another woman yelled: "People are on the street. What kind of security [is there] with your decree?" A resident of the area said, "This place has been like this for 30 years. Why didn't anyone ever come to check? There's powdered asbestos here that we've been breathing for years. Who will pay for all this?" 

Another resident called the operation "a farce". "The occupants knew about the operation for days, so they left. They moved to two other abandoned buildings just a few hundred metres from here." In fact, at those buildings - the former Romanazzi plant on Via Tor Cervara and an abandoned restaurant in the San Basilio neighborhood - on Monday morning there were makeshift beds inside, as well as other signs that people had used the structures at night.

'In the name of order and legality'

"In the coming weeks there are other clearances planned in Rome and in many other Italian cities. From words to facts," said Salvini, adding that this was just another day in the name of order and legality. By late Monday morning, the evacuation operation was complete.The police said 35 people were taken to the immigration office for identification. 

About 50 propane tanks and two generators were found inside the structure. The property, which was handed back to its owners, will be patroled by law enforcement officers to prevent the structure from becoming occupied again. 

'It was horrible living in this place'

One of the former residents, by the name of Diop, said that "It was horrible living in this place."  He explained, "often, fights ended in stabbings. I've been in Italy for 22 years and I have a legal residence permit. Years ago I even saved a man on the subway. We're not all bad, you can't generalize. We are only asking for shelter and an opportunity," he said. 

Rome City Hall said it will continue to provide accommodation for those who occupied the former penicillin factory. Thus far, 96 people have been transferred to reception centers managed by the city: 32 last week and 64 who accepted alternative housing on Monday morning. 

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