Following content is an adaptation of this article.
After 6 years of neglect following the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games, the former Olympic Village [locally known as “Ex-MOI”] was occupied on March 30th, 2013 to tackle the housing emergency lived by the refugees in the city of Turin. There are currently around 600 people of over 25 different nationalities living at the Ex-MOI, divided in 4 different buildings. To this day, this is the largest, stablest and most important occupation for refugees that has ever taken place in Italy.
Supposedly designed and built using the latest ecological and sustainable design criteria and with an overall cost of over 100 million Euros1, the building complex was finished in 20 months to host athletes from all over the world. Short after the Olympic Games, serious structural problems revealed the inaptitude of the building complex to be converted to other uses. Other municipality plans to reuse the area failed. A huge part remains unused, while the rest is now hosts different public projects (co-housing, youth hostel and university dorm) while others are still empty.
Between 2011 and 2013 many of the asylum seekers who arrived in Italy could benefit of the ENA (North Africa Emergency Plan), a comprehensive integration project of the Italian government to tackle the humanitarian crisis following the turmoil in North Africa and the war in Libya. While actively support the lybian war, the italian government lacked to host properly the 30.000 ENA refugees. This program reinforced the SPRAR project (Services for the Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees), enhancing actions and funds to support refugees’ job insertion and training placements as well as providing access to public healthcare and to a dignified shelter. These projects were mostly useless in many ways: lacked to teach italian, many were set in far away location, social integration or undestanding of italian bureaucreacy wasn’t provided and or job trainings didn’t take place. Some where simply hotels or other facilities where the refugees were forced to stay with nothing to do. The ENA ended abruptly in March 2013 and many refugees ended up in the streets.
The “Refugees and Migrants Solidarity Committee” is a group of volunteers and includes students, migrants, committed citizens and social activists. It is politically linked to two autonomists squat in the city, Askatasuna and Gabrio, but is also supported by various local associations. It is linked to the national grass-root housing movement. It supported the occupation of the Ex-MOI with the aim to provide refugees with a house after they were abandoned by the government project. Since the occupation, the Committee has supported the refugees by providing medical, linguistic and legal care, creating a school within the premises, coordinating for the distribution of food, furniture and other basic supplies.
A long political battle started by refugees and the committee promoted various demonstrations and temporary blocking public offices, in order to get a legal Residenza. It lasted 8 months, but the struggles started even before, in 2007 by darfur refugees in the first refugees squat. Residenza grants the access to all social and health services, school, is necessry to renew the permit of stay (refugees visa), it even allows to have a driving license and a legal job contract. Municipality finally granted the refugees in the whole city a rResidenza (esidence status) which gives them access to public healthcare and the possibility to enrol in the employment agency, but not the access to social service (which qualifies as discrimination, according to Italian legislation).
In early 2014 the committee promoted another occupation. The five-storey building was occupied following the overcrowding of the Ex-MOI building complex and it currently hosts around 60 people. There is a bathroom every two rooms and a basic cooking area on every floor. The internal yard has been converted to a vegetable garden run by the inhabitants, the by repair officina is also self-managed. Formerly a nursing home managed by the local Catholic Parish, the building is today self-managed by its dwellers, whose main decision organ is a weekly assemlby/meeting. However, the ownership remains of the Church, who also takes care of the electricity and other utilities bills.
“We held many meetings to discuss how to react to the end of the government funding for the emergency in North Africa and decided to occupy the MOI independently from authorities and local Ngos to provide refugees with a shelter and the possibility to be self-sufficient without other compromise. At first, we assigned the rooms according to the people who would come to our meetings and the most needy. The first building was occupied to host families with children and women; however, many more people than expected came during and after the occupation to ask for a shelter. We occupied three other buildings and had to mix ethnic groups as well as men and women. The increasing number of applicants did not allow us to respect the original plans. At the beginning the refugees thought we worked for the government and complained because we could not host everyone, then they understood we are independent activists and the relationship changed.” –
Solidarity Committee for Refugees and Migrants
“I left Gambia to work in Lybia, but when the war broke out, I was jailed for not having the proper working documents. In jail I got the opportunity to escape and got on a boat with other African foreign workers. After an appalling boat trip I reached Lampedusa [Italy], where the Italian authorities granted me the status of refugee and advised me to come to Turin, at the Ex-MOI, because there I would have good opportunities to find a shelter and support. I took a train and went straight to the Ex-MOI, which was very easy to reach because everybody I asked knew about it. As soon as I arrived, I met one of my former jail mates. I like it here. This village is the real “Africa United”. In Africa we kill each other, here we live together.” – 19 year-old inhabitant of the Ex-MOI