Rome: Penicillin Factory Should Be Re-purposed after Migrant Eviction

A former penicillin factory in Rome had been occupied by over 600 people, especially migrants and asylum seekers living in harsh conditions. However, they were forced to leave the factory without an alternative housing solution.

On 10 December migrants were evicted from the Baobab centre, a former penicillin factory in Rome. The police operation took place in the early morning, and 36 people were taken to Police Headquarters (Questura) to undergo identification procedures.

The huge Rome penicillin factory opened in 1950, but had, until recently, been occupied by over 600 people, both Italians and foreigners. Most of them knew about the eviction before it started and had already moved to another building a few days before the operation.

Getting out of the ghetto

A press conference was arranged in the former factory before the police dismantled the occupants’ shelters. At the press conference the occupants appealed to the public for help: “We are constrained to stay here, we live like animals in a crumbling building. Garbage, including toxic waste, is all around and half of the structure is falling apart. We are not criminals but just poor, and we have to stay here because no alternatives are available yet.”

The occupants’ spokesperson also said: “We do not want any eviction, but an evacuation that includes alternative hosting solutions. The building must be cleaned up, restored and given back to people: it should be a public space open to everyone, including children and disabled individuals. If no alternatives are provided after the eviction, we will form a human chain around the building”.

Many NGOs have worked tirelessly to assist the occupants of the building, providing them with medical, psychological and legal assistance. Moreover, these associations recently published the report “Uscire dal Ghetto” (“Getting out of the ghetto”), which highlights the poor living conditions of the people occupying the facility and how they ended up living there.

Of the migrants who arrived at the former factory, almost 100 reportedly came after another eviction close to the factory. Many foreigners who used the building for shelter had not been granted residence permits because of the reluctance of Police departments to examine their applications. In this respect, most of the applicants are required to certify their place of residence, while a declaration of domicile should suffice.

Chemicals, asbestos prevalent in the former factory

The main concern about the future of the former factory is actually related to the uninterrupted as well as underestimated environmental dangers arising from of the chemicals which contaminate the site.

Andrea Turchi, a lecturer and retired chemist who has carried out on-site inspections, says: “The most terrible thing here is that asbestos, which was used to insulate plumbing in the factory, is everywhere. There are no windows, and the asbestos freely spreads in the air and into the lungs, not only of the building’s occupants, but also people living in the neighbourhood. In addition to this, medicinal boxes covered the pavement, with sulphuric acid and ammonium bottles all around. This is not acceptable: it is too dangerous.”

The imposing building, which is located in the city’s suburbs, has for a long time caused concern among local citizens who have urged for the structure re-purposed rather than demolished. This is a sensible approach, since the factory is in a neighbourhood where there is a housing crisis which especially affects people whose living standards are below the average.

Most of the factory premises are owned by the company ISF, which is expected to put forward a sanitation project for the requalification of the structure in a few days.