/ 21 September 2012

Asylum seekers abandoned to hardships and racism in Italy

Political refugees who risk their lives to sail from Africa to Italy are being abandoned to a life of poverty.
Political refugees who risk their lives to sail from Africa to Italy are being abandoned to a life of poverty.

The damning survey of Italy's human rights record, released this week by the Council of Europe, follows the outlawing by the European Court of Human Rights this year of Italy's "push back" policy of intercepting migrants in the Mediterranean and handing them over to Libyan patrols.

Those migrants who do make it to Italy and qualify for refugee status – now numbering 58 000 – are being relegated to the margins of society and are increasingly victims of racist violence, the report found.

Investigators focused on the so-called palace of shame, a derelict eight-storey building on the outskirts of Rome where 800 refugees from war-torn countries in the Horn of Africa camp out, with one bathroom for every 100 residents.

"I was shocked," said the council's commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, after visiting the building. "Italy does a good job granting refugee status but is no help afterwards, while many other countries give access to housing, citizenship, job and language training and education."

Donatella D'Angelo, a doctor who gives volunteer assistance at the building, said the refugees had been haphazardly granted residency permits for other neighbourhoods in Rome, "which means they cannot get access nearby to schools or medical care", she said.

"Some parts of the building are flooded, infectious illnesses are ­common and the illegal electricity hook-up is intermittent," she said.

Bihirddim Abdellah (29) a Sudanese refugee who has lived in the building for five years, said he feared for the women and children's health as winter approached. "We have no rights, and apart from occasional manual labour there is no work," he said.

The report also said that, despite the Italian government's intention to promote the social integration of Roma and Sinti families in Italy, forced evictions to newly built, segregated camps continue. Many such families have lived in Italy for years.

One camp isolated on the edge of Rome – which the city describes as an "equipped village" – hosts

1100 people and is surrounded by a metal fence and is only accessible through a controlled entrance.

"Putting ethnic minorities in segregated camps is not in line with human rights obligations," said Muiznieks. "The alternative was to ask if the families wanted social housing or legalised settlements." – © Guardian News & Media 2012