The roadhouse near Oulx, which was transformed into a self-managed shelter and cleared in May 2021 | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/UFFICIO STAMPA/CARABINIERI (Carabinieri Press Office)
The roadhouse near Oulx, which was transformed into a self-managed shelter and cleared in May 2021 | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/UFFICIO STAMPA/CARABINIERI (Carabinieri Press Office)

A prosecutor in Turin has requested the conviction of 19 people for occupying a house and the rooms of a church to host migrants who were trying to cross into France. However, the state attorney requested the court to consider the squatters were motivated by "humanitarian reasons."

On Thursday, July 14, a prosecutor in Italy's northern city of Turin, Giuseppe Drammis, requested jail terms ranging between seven and 11 months for 19 people who had occupied a house and rooms in a church in order to host migrants.

At the same time, the prosecutor put it to the court that the defendents had been acting on "humanitarian" grounds and that should be considered as a mitigating circumstance in their sentencing.

Beginning in 2018, the pro-migrant activists occupied a former roadhouse on the State 24 highway, and the rooms of a church in Italy's Valle di Susa (a valley in the Alps) in order to host migrants who were trying to cross the border.

The buildings were transformed into a self-managed shelter, with the aim of assisting migrants who were hoping to cross into France.

Mitigating circumstances

For this reason, said the prosecutor, the 19 squatters should be convicted, although the fact that they were acting for reasons of particular social and moral value should be recognized as a mitigating factor.

"It is true that the two occupied facilities were used as the headquarters for demonstrations to protest against government policies on the management of migration flows," noted the prosecutor.

"However, the objective to provide assistance should be recognized. People in a condition of extreme difficulty were helped. Therefore, it was a humanitarian action," he concluded.

Defense attorneys criticize the investigations

The legal team representing the defendants criticized the investigation carried out by Italy's Carabinieri police force.

"It appears very clear that, since the beginning, this operation was conducted against people who had been ideologically profiled. Those who occupied the facilities were identified, but not the people who were actually using them. Even when migrants left for the mountains, taking very serious risks, the attention of investigators remained focused on the people whose political militancy was clearly of interest to them," stated the defense team.

Attorney Valentina Colletta stressed that "witnesses for the prosecution insisted on [mentioning] the anarchist ideology or No TAV [the movement against the high-speed rail line between Lyon and Turin] as if it were relevant [to the group's other actions]."

Two sides

The NO TAV movement has coalsesced into a highly contested struggle between those who support the fast rail link and investment in the area and activists who say it will destroy the natural environment of the Alps. Since the 1990s, there have been many bitter struggles and demonstrations between the two sides. The movement doesn't have anything directly to do with migrants, but some of those who are against the high-speed rail link may also be active in humanitarian initiatives which are pro-migrant.

"The reality is that between 2017 and 2020 the Alta Valle di Susa was crossed by 10,000 migrants traveling to France. About 10 of them died in the attempt," Colletta said.

"Some of those who were there spoke about people coming from Africa or Asia who were tired, hungry, cold, not equipped to deal with the cold climate of the mountains. However, institutions were disinterested, leaving the management of the emergency to people of goodwill. A parish priest told us that the priorities were [simply] different."

The court is scheduled to rule on the case in October.


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