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Evicted from their 7-year home in Milan’s former public baths which will become a mosque

In this Nov. 6, 2020 file photo, a food delivery rider pushes his bicycle inside the Vittorio Emanuele shopping arcade in Milan, Italy.
In this Nov. 6, 2020 file photo, a food delivery rider pushes his bicycle inside the Vittorio Emanuele shopping arcade in Milan, Italy. Copyright Gian Mattia D'Alberto/LaPresse via AP
Copyright Gian Mattia D'Alberto/LaPresse via AP
By Giulia Carbonaro
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The mosque, the first to be built legally in the Italian city, will replace the former public baths which for seven years have been occupied by a group of migrants who can't afford a home in Milan's rental market.


For the past seven years, the dilapidated former public baths in Milan’s Via Esterle, an imposing building that bears the scars of time on its tired facade, had been the home of a group of migrants and low-paid workers legally living and working in Italy.

That changed this week when local authorities forcibly evicted them after the building was sold to be converted into a mosque.

Built in 1928, during Italy’s fascist years, and later transformed into a buttons factory and a mechanics school before being abandoned in 1999, the building was occupied in 2016 by a group of migrants who decided to make it their home.

Through the years, the group has grown to include about 40 people, all around the age of 30, mostly African and Muslim, according to Italian media, though some reported that Italians are also living in it.

While they can all legally find employment in Italy, most of them can only find seasonal or temporary jobs that don’t pay enough for them to afford rent in Milan. They’re Deliveroo riders, cooks, factory, agricultural, and warehouse workers.

And while the former public baths are falling apart, the building still offers the migrants beds, showers, kitchens, bathrooms, and even a space for prayer.

Once notified by city authorities that they needed to leave the building for the construction of the new mosque, the former baths’ residents complained, accusing Milan of “selling off” its residents.

“Together with this place, the town hall is selling its residents too?” a sign outside the building reads.

The activist group “Ci Siamo - Rete Solidale” (literally: “We’re Here - Solidarity Network”) said the eviction is an example of the city “not wanting to see their poor or let them be seen.”

But despite protests and the solidarity of local activists, the group was evicted on Tuesday. Now, they worry they will be forced into homelessness.

Interviewed by Fanpage, one of the former residents said that none of them can afford to find a place for rent, “that’s why this is home for us. To rent a place we need to wait for years to have the right documents, we need a fixed contract, while we have temporary jobs of 2 to 6 months.”

“In Milan, if you’re a foreigner and you want to rent a home you need to have an Italian guarantor.”

Local authorities said they’ll intervene to help families with minors find a new home, but won’t help the others because they were occupying the building illegally.

Asfa Mahmoud, president of the organisation that won the contract to build a mosque over the former baths, had previously said that he hoped local authorities would find a solution to house the residents.

“We hope city authorities will find a solution for these guys, we don’t want to have a war between the poor. We want to enter Via Esterle in a pacific way,” he said. That did not happen.

The mosque, which will be the city’s first legal one, will be built in one of the most multicultural neighbourhoods in Milan.

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