At first sight Selam Palace looks like any one of the many office buildings in Rome. However, its real use is revealed by the dozens of satellites dishes, flower vases, pegged-out washing and people entering and exiting the premises, suggesting that for many those rooms have become a home.
Most of the occupants are refugees who have been living in the Italian capital for years.
Over 10 years of occupation
The former faculty of literature and philosophy of Tor Vergata university is located near the Romanina neighbourhood in east Rome and has been occupied since 2006. "In the early stages two floors of the building were granted by the city authorities following other evictions," Livia Maria Salvatori, a volunteer with the association Cittadini del Mondo that supports the squatters, told ANSA. "Subsequently negotiations to transfer the people who had been evicted to more adequate accommodation failed, and Selam became to all intents and purposes a fully occupied building," she continued. It is estimated that the building is 'home' to approximately 600 people, including families and roughly 40 children. "We are not involved in the internal management of the building, but we are carrying out a census. The occupants are essentially beneficiaries of international and humanitarian protection. There is only a small number of asylum seekers," Salvatori explained. The occupants come mostly from Eritrea, but there are also migrants from Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. "There is an elected committee containing representatives of all the communities in the building that is in charge of practical matters and relations with the institutions."
Difficult life, uncertain future
Living conditions in the building are tough. In addition to the rooms, "on some floors communal areas are used as dormitories" and the bathrooms in the corridors are "overcrowded". Some rooms are without windows. "No-one likes living in Selam, the occupants recognise that the conditions are unhealthy," Salvatori said. Some occupants work, but for the most part employment is occasional and in the black market. From the outset Cittadini del mondo has provided advice and medical assistance in the building, as well as running a social clinic out of its headquarters in the Quadraro district to "promote integration". It has also recently renovated an intercultural library and runs Italian language classes and other activities of benefit to migrants. "Selam is a pocket of failed integration, due to its outlying position and state of abandon, and we are trying to provide as many tools as possible to enable the occupants to leave this pocket." The late summer evictions in Rome "raised fear" of provisions for Selam as well, but "there is an open dialogue and a collaborative relationship" with the local council. Finding a definitive solution to the problem of Selam "is difficult, but we are taking steps forward".