The mattresses that were set on fire at Ponte Galeria | Photo: ANSA/Marta Bonafoni
The mattresses that were set on fire at Ponte Galeria | Photo: ANSA/Marta Bonafoni

Twenty-eight migrants were released from a migrant repatriation center in Rome after a fire broke out following a protest in recent days. The protest was set off by the arrival of a Nigerian diplomat called to help repatriations as well as a ban on the use of cell phones.

28 people being held at the Ponte Galeria migrant repatriation centre (CPR) in Rome were released on Tuesday evening because parts of the center had become inaccessible after some Nigerian migrants set fire to mattresses during a protest last Friday. 

The fire required firefighter intervention; there were no injuries, but the structure was damaged.

A total of 85 men are being held at the CPR, and 39 women are being held in a separate area. Others may be released in the next few days.

The announcement of the decision to release 28 of the 85 male migrants was made on Wednesday morning by the Lazio Guarantor for the Rights of Detained Persons, Stefano Anastasia. The regional guarantor's office, as well as representatives of the regional government, had visited the structure to inspect the conditions inside following the fire.

'Critical situation' 

Two regional councillors said Wednesday the situation is "still critical", with migrants there "forced to live with an acrid stench of smoke that is potentially toxic, which involves both the TV rooms as well as rooms where beds are located." They said dozens of migrants "are forced to sleep outside, with mattresses on the ground, despite the rain." 

The two councillors said what set off the protest last week was the arrival of a Nigerian diplomat, which generally precedes forced repatriations. In fact, on Saturday, 11 people were put on a charter flight. They said migrants also protested against what the guarantor called "the unjustified ban" on the use of cell phones. 

The councillors said the rules don't prohibit the use of cell phones, but specify only that a landline telephone has to be guaranteed for outside communication. The councillors said many of the migrants had cell phones in other centres and the phones were taken away from them. The use of cell phones was permitted in the Ponte Galeria CPR prior to remodelling work over the summer, the councillors said. These factors caused tension among migrants in the center, who are not only Nigerian but also from the Gambia, Ghana, and the Maghreb. 

Call to abolish structures

Following the fire, an assessment by the ASL local health department on the healthiness of the places affected by the fire is still pending. The councillors said a protocol has been signed with ASL so that migrant health issues at the center can be managed legally.

The guarantor is working to develop a form of permanent supervision at the CPR centers, where it said migrants often live in "deplorable conditions". The councillors said that comes as a relief, but said continued oversight is needed. "Structures such as this are already on their own damaging to people's dignity and freedom; they should be abolished," they said.

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