Hundreds of Sudanese live in 'Hotel Africa', Italy - a derelict railway station in the centre of Rome

 

© Erwin Vantland/MSF
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These refugees come to Italy on boats filled with people. There are many accounts of people falling overboard as they cannot keep their balance on the crowded boats.
 

Italy - Around 200 Sudanese refugees are squatting in an abandoned railway station in Rome, Italy. Many have applied for a refugee status and are awaiting the outcome of their procedure. Others have been granted asylum but simply have nowhere to go. The buildings are being demolished and MSF is pushing the Prefecture, Rome's City Council and the owner of the site, to find a solution for the Sudanese and other squatters, who total around 400 at Tiburtina station.

Last week, the MSF team of Missione Italia distributed hygiene kits to the refugees. They live here with no running water nor electricity. There are no sanitation facilities and the risk of disease is very high.

"MSF (has) negotiated with the authorities the supply of running water to the people living in the area," said Andrea Accardi, who is coordinating the MSF intervention. "But this is just one part of the negotiation. We are pushing the local authorities to find a long term solution for all the people living in these buildings."

In what has been dubbed 'Hotel Africa', a stone construction that was once a barrack for storing rails but is now nothing but an empty shell, Sudanese refugees have made their homes. They come from the south of Sudan - a war zone for decades - and from the country's west where a violent war is being fought this year. In addition to monitoring their situation, lobbying for a better housing solution, checking their health and providing basic assistance, the MSF team also takes time to record the refugees' stories.

One man from Darfur, western Sudan, tells the typical tale of violence, escape and flight: "Three of my brothers have been arrested because they refused the forced recruitment. They have been detained in a jail for months, tortured and humiliated. When they tried to escape the soldiers executed them. I've been arrested too. I stayed in a jail for three months, then I escaped and I decided to flee. When I was in Libya, I heard that, in Italy, there are human rights and there's the chance for refugees to find protection. Is this the kind of protection have I heard about?"

 

© Erwin Vantland/MSF
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Many of the refugees landed on the Sicilian coast during this year's Spring or Summer, after an often hazardous trip across the Mediterranean from Lybia. It is not uncommon for them to be stuck in Lybia for many months as they have to gather the fare for being put across; that fare averaged around $500US one year ago but has since gone up to $1,200US per person. This money buys them a spot on a boat, but often it means having to share a 14m vessel with over 100 other refugees.

There are many stories of people washing overboard as they cannot keep their balance on the overcrowded ships.

In Sicily, people who arrive from across the Mediterranean Sea generally find good reception in the centres put in place by the authorities. But Tiburtina railway station clearly demonstrates how the main problems arise after this first reception.

"The situation of the people in the area is the legacy of the lack of a second reception assistance system," said Andrea Accardi. "The people fleeing wars or general violence arrive in Italy after a long and dangerous journey and what they find is, more or less, nothing: a basic assistance at arrival and then they are left on their own."

 

© Erwin Vantland/MSF
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On the rails between the buildings, an old men is cooking water on an open fire.

"Here it's just like Africa, isn't it?", he said with a discouraged tone of voice. Only a dew dozen away, construction workers are demolishing one of the station's buildings. Hotel Africa will be knocked down as well, as this site is meant to become Rome's largest railway station. For the people living here, no alternative location has been found.

Another man from Darfur tells of how he fled, after six months in jail, to escape being forcibly recruited.

"I left Sudan four years ago, because the situation is very bad," he said. "The government does not help western Sudan. There are no schools and there is no medical care. They look at our people as if we are nothing. There is no water and no electricity where I come from. Our people have no rights. My country is one million square kilometers, but nowhere can I get my rights. I lost my father and my mother. I lost my friends. Now I am here. Again I live like an animal. I have been given asylum, but I have nowhere to go."

MSF has mounted an emergency intervention in eastern Chad, for tens of thousands of Sudanese who have fled the violence in Darfur.