At least 13 people have been injured during clashes between forcibly evicted refugees and anti-riot police in Rome, Italy, on Thursday (24 August), Medici Senza Frontiere (MSF) told IBTimes UK.
Tensions are mounting in Rome after hundreds of refugees – the majority of whom have been granted asylum after feeling Ethiopia and Eritrea – were forcibly evicted from a building after being accused of illegally occupying it for four years. Activists and human rights organisation claim the number of people evicted is around 800.
Clashes erupted in Piazza Indipendenza after refugees were forcibly removed from the square. They had been living there for the past five days, after they were evicted from their homes in Via Curtatone.
MSF condemned what it deemed as a "violent evacuation carried out by the police".
In a statement sent to IBTimes UK, the organisation explained that those forcibly removed from the square included women, the elderly and disabled people.
"We called ambulances for five people who were injured. Others sustained wounds as a result of the coercive methods used by security forces," Francesco Di Donna, an MSF coordinator, said.
The organisation said one woman fell on the floor and fainted after she was struck by a water cannon.
'Forced to be homeless'
Activists and human rights organisations have condemned the episode, arguing that the evicted people have not been provided with alternative housing solutions.
Some have managed to find a temporary accommodation at friends or relatives' houses, but the majority of people had no choice but stay on the streets.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR expressed its "deep concern for the eviction, without previous notice, of about 800 people".
The organisation said in a statement: "The building, occupied since 2013, was mainly inhabited by Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees. There is particular concern at the lack of alternatives for the majority of people who have been evicted.
"Although some vulnerable people were allowed to stay in the building, some 200 people – including 50 women – had been forced to sleep on the streets."
The organisation called on local authorities to work to tackle a situation of "grave distress and marginalisation".
Following clashes, nearly 1,800 people have signed an online petition calling on the Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, to restore "anti-racist, anti-fascist and ethical values" in the city.
"No majour national politician was there this morning," Internazionale newspaper journalist Christina Raimo, who launched the petition, told IBTimes UK.
"The matter has been left in the hands of security forces and the mayor has not spoken out about this issue. No one has issued any statement," he continued.
Both Raggi and the central police station in Rome have not responded to a request for a comment.
However, news agency Ansa quoted the police as saying that evicted people "had refused alternative accommodations".
On the other hand, refugees were quoted as saying: "Shame, we just want a house. We have only seen [alternative accommodation] offers in the newspapers. No-one has told us anything."
Police said in a statement quoted by Reuters that protesters had gas canisters and pepper spray and they hurled rocks and bottles at security forces. Two people were arrested.
The prefect of Rome, Paola Basilone, thanked security forces for carrying out the eviction of the building and the square, which she said was conducted "in conditions of absolute security, in spite of the foreseeable opposition" by the refugees.
She also claimed protests had been infiltrated by members of the Movimenti di Lotta per la Casa - Struggle Movements for Housing- who "convinced refugees not to accept alternative accommodations offered to them".
The majority of people removed from the square simply relocated to other streets across the city, amid fears that similar episodes of violence might occur in the next days.