Italy's homeless, jobless migrants shunned by politicians

TURIN, Italy (Reuters) - A rainstorm buffets unheated apartment blocks on the outskirts of the northern Italian city of Turin where more than 1,000 impoverished African migrants huddle in rooms built to house 300 competitors at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

The plight of the hundreds of thousands of migrants struggling to build a life in Italy is rarely discussed by most political parties, even though immigration is one of the hottest issues ahead of national elections on March 4.

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Keen to harness a growing backlash against more than 600,000 migrants who have landed on Italian shores in the past four years, the parties are instead promising tough measures such as mass deportations or halting immigration altogether.

With poor Italians also struggling to find housing and jobs in an anemic economy, offering support to migrants such as those in the Olympic village is not considered a vote winner.

The residents of one of Europe's largest squats, some sleeping in stairwells and storage closets, hail from 28 African countries. Many are jobless or earn very little with sporadic work. Years after first landing in Italy, some cannot afford food, let alone rent.

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Turin's Olympic village houses the impoverished
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Turin's Olympic village houses the impoverished
Light emanates from the windows of three of the four occupied buildings by migrants of the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 12, 2018. Picture taken January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Ramz Laila, 39, prepares tea in her apartment in one of the four occupied buildings where migrants live in the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy, January 14, 2018. Picture taken January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
The symbol of the Olympics is seen on a glass door inside one of the four buildings occupied by migrants in the former Olympic village of Turin, Italy, January 14, 2018. Picture taken January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Pigeons fly over a wall with graffiti near four of the buildings occupied by migrants in the former Olympic village of Turin Italy, January 14, 2018. Picture taken January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Samuel Pieta, 33, smokes the last end of a cigarette in his room in one of the four buildings occupied by migrants in the former Olympic village of Turin, Italy, January 13, 2018. Picture taken January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Nicolo Vasile, 31, looks at damage and things to repair in a toilet of an apartment in one of the four occupied buildings where migrants live in the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 10, 2018. Picture taken January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Graffiti is seen by a staircase in one of the four buildings occupied by migrants in the former Olympic village of Turin Italy, January 13, 2018. Picture taken January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Sisters Fariah Ibrahim, 3, (L) and Aisha Ibrahim, 4, play in their home in one of the four buildings occupied by migrants in the former Olympic village of Turin, Italy, January 11, 2018. Picture taken January 11, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Samuel Pieta, 33, shows a picture of him holding his cat in his apartment room in one of the four occupied buildings by migrants of the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 8, 2018. Picture taken January 8, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
An hair dresser saloon and other kiosks are pictured on the grounds of some of the occupied buildings by migrants of the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 13, 2018. Picture taken January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
A sign that reads "No to the cheat project" hangs close to the four occupied buildings by migrants in the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 14, 2018. Picture taken January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Samuel Pieta, 33, holds his cat in his apartment room in one of the four occupied buildings by migrants of the former Olympic village in Turin Italy January 8, 2018. Picture taken January 8, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Light emanates from windows of occupied buildings by migrants of the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 12, 2018. Picture taken January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
A man feeds pigeons outside one of the four buildings occupied by migrants in the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 14, 2018. Picture taken January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
A migrant converses with a teacher during Italian language classes near the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 14, 2018. Picture taken January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Stickers are pictured on an occupied building where migrants live in the former Olympic village in Turin, Italy January 14, 2018. Picture taken January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
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"This place is the epitome of Italy's failure to integrate," said Nicolo' Vasile, a 31-year-old engineer from Sicily who spends an average of 40 hours a week helping residents, including 40 families and 50 children, with maintenance, paperwork and other tasks.

"There is no institutional path to integration. It simply doesn't exist, unlike elsewhere in Europe," said Vasile, one of 20 local volunteers, from students to pensioners to professors, who help those stuck in the Turin complex.

The ruling center-left Democratic Party (PD) tried to take the sting out of the migration debate last year by striking deals with the Tripoli government and coast guard aimed at preventing migrants from boarding boats for Europe.

As a result, the number of migrants arriving in Italy by sea fell by a third last year to 119,000, but this has failed to quell the fears of ordinary Italians.

In May 2013, only 4 percent of Italians saw immigration as one of the two most important issues affecting their country. By May of last year the figure was 36 percent, according to the European Commission's Eurobarometer survey.

Thirty percent of the electorate would vote for a party that pledges to put "Italians first", while 25 percent would back a bloc promising to "stop immigrants", according to an SWG poll published last week.

Related: Migrants risk their lives to reach France: 

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Migrants risk their lives to reach France
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Migrants risk their lives to reach France
Cars pass through a tunnel on the Italian-French border from where migrants have attempted to pass into France, near the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia in northern Italy, December 2, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Migrants discuss their day having crossed part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, in the shelter centre of the organisation Tous Migrants (All Migrants) in the town of Briancon in southeastern France, December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Migrants walk through snow on a steep ravine as they attempt to cross part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia in northern Italy, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Abdullhai, 38 (R) and Abu, 23 (front L), migrants from Guinea, talk and use their mobile phones in their room the day after crossing part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, in the shelter centre of the organisation Tous Migrants (All Migrants) in the town of Briancon in southeastern France, December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Abdurahman, a migrant from Guinea, walks in snow after crossing part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Migrants walk through snow as they attempt to cross part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia in northern Italy, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Abdullhai, 38, from Guinea, attempts to cross part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Kamarra, 28 (L), from Guinea and a group of other migrants rest and warm up by a fire in a cave after crossing part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Migrants walk through snow as they attempt to cross part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia in northern Italy, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Abdullhai, 38 (L), and Abdurahman, migrants from Guinea walk along with another group as they pass an Italian man during an attempt to cross part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia in northern Italy, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Abdullhai, 38, from Guinea, rests after crossing part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Migrants rest after having crossed part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Migrants mostly from the Darfur region of western Sudan warm up by a fire under a highway bypass where they have been sheltering from the weather as they prepare to attempt to cross the Italian border into France, in the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia, northern Italy, December 3, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Snow covers the beginning of a mountain pass from where migrants try to cross from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia in northern Italy, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Migrants mostly from the Darfur region of western Sudan warm up by a fire under a highway bypass where they have been sheltering from the weather as they prepare to attempt to cross the Italian border into France, in the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia, northern Italy, December 3, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A sign that warns of avalanche dangers protrudes from the snow on a mountain pass where migrants try to cross from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia in northern Italy, December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A helicopter belonging to the French police searches for migrants attempting to cross part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia in northern Italy, December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Aid volunteers from the Italian Catholic relief organisation Caritas give hot tea and bread with jam to a group of migrants in the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia, northern Italy, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man prays on a river bank after spending the night under a highway bypass from where migrants of mostly North African origins prepare to attempt to cross the Italian border into France, in the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia, northern Italy, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Discarded clothes are seen by a mountain pass near the Italian-French border from where migrants have attempted to pass into France, near the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia in northern Italy, December 2, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Migrants walk through snow after crossing part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A man washes himself in a cold river after spending the night under a highway bypass from where migrants of mostly North African origins prepare to attempt to cross the Italian border into France, in the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia, northern Italy, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A migrant rests after crossing part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola SEARCH "MODOLA ALPS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
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MASS DEPORTATIONS

The opposition center-right bloc is taking the hardest line against migrants.

The coalition, which includes Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy!) and the anti-immigrant Northern League, is leading in the opinion polls though no single bloc appears yet to have enough votes to govern alone.

Former prime minister Berlusconi says irregular migrants are driving up crime and should be deported, even though official data shows crime rates fell last year. The far-right Northern League has promised mass deportations.

"There are half a million irregular migrants in Italy. All of them need to be sent home," League leader Matteo Salvini told la Repubblica newspaper on Tuesday.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which is polling as the single biggest party at just under 30 percent, says Italians must come first and that it will deport irregular migrants.

One of the reasons offering aid to immigrants is unpopular is that some Italians face similar problems with housing and jobs, and likewise receive little or no help from the government.

Greece, another country on the immigration frontline, offers even less than Italy, but those who reach European Union countries such as Germany and Sweden get more support because refugee status gives them access to robust welfare systems.

While Italy's migrant budget was 4.3 billion euros ($5.3 billion) last year, Germany's federal government spent 13.6 billion euros to accommodate and process asylum seekers, two years after more than a million refugees crossed its borders.

Germany's 16 state governments spent billions more. In 2016, the states spent about 23 billion euros though exact figures for last year are not yet available.

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24 PHOTOS
Colombia evicts homeless Venezuelans
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Colombia evicts homeless Venezuelans
Men sleep in a sport center where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 23, 2018. Picture taken January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People cook arepas using firewood in a sport center where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 23, 2018. Picture taken January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Carolina Centeno (R) sits next to her family and their belongings, as they sleep in a sport center where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People prepare to sleep in a sport center, where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 23, 2018. Picture taken January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man sleeps next to backpacks with the colors of the Venezuelan national flag, in a sport center where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 23, 2018. Picture taken January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Men sit next to the fire as they cook arepas using firewoods in a sport center where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 23, 2018. Picture taken January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Men cook arepas using firewood in a sport center where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 23, 2018. Picture taken January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People sleep on the floor of a sport center, where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People chat as others prepare to sleep in a sport center, where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 23, 2018. Picture taken January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People prepare to sleep on the floor of a sport center, where a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants stays, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Jhonfre Garcia smokes a cigarette as other Venezuelan migrants start waking up, during an operation by the Colombian police to evict them from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People collect their belongings next to police officers during an operation by the Colombian police to evict a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A police officer talks to a man during an operation by the Colombian police to evict a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A Venezuelan migrant puts on his shoes next to police officers during an operation by the Colombian police to evict a community of homeless Venezuelans migrants from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Jhon Teran (C) looks at the passports of his relatives while he sits next to other Venezuelan migrants during an operation by the Colombian police to evict them from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Venezuelans ride on a truck escorted by police officers during an operation by the Colombian police to evict a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A migration officer takes pictures of Venezuelan migrants as they get off trucks before they cross to Venezuela, during an operation by the Colombian police to evict them from a sport center, at the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Venezuelan migrants get on a truck during an operation by the Colombian police to evict them from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Venezuelan migrants wait on a truck during an operation by the Colombian police to evict them from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Venezuelans ride on the trucks escorted by police officers during an operation by the Colombian police to evict a community of homeless Venezuelan migrants from a sport center, in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A migration officer and a Colombian policeman stand in front of people queueing to try to cross into Venezuela from Colombia through the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Colombian police officers stand in front of people queueing to try to cross into Colombia from Venezuela through Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Men carry a woman who fainted while queueing to try to cross into Venezuela from Colombia through Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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IN LIMBO

In Italy, almost 200,000 migrants now live in shelters, but they must leave when their asylum request is granted, which usually takes no more than 18 months, with no further housing or unemployment benefits provided. Almost 120,000 people have received some form of asylum in Italy in the past four years.

Required by law to seek asylum and work in the European Union country where they first set foot, the migrants are trapped in Italy, forcing many to forage to survive.

Jamal Adam, 31, from the Darfur region of Sudan arrived in Italy in 2011. Unable to find a job he went to Germany, but returned because the EU asylum rules prevented him from getting legal papers in any country other than Italy.

"In Germany, they give you money and a place to stay and you rest easy," he said in the Olympic village in Turin as daily prayers from Mecca echoed out of a TV. "Here you get nothing."

He has been squatting in a small room with three others since the four buildings were first occupied in early 2013.

Like more than 90 percent of those in the Turin complex, Adam can stay and work legally in Italy, but remains unemployed.

"It's not normal for people to live like this," said Sonia Schellino, the social affairs assessor for the Turin City Council, run by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

She is working with various local bodies to try to empty the buildings, offering migrants better lodging, guaranteed for six months to a year, plus jobs or training. Migrants, though, fear they will be back on the streets afterwards.

Trapped in limbo with their dreams of a better future fading, some residents are depressed and mentally fragile. "They just lose it after a while," volunteer Vasile says. One migrant attempted suicide by leaping from a window this month.

Samuel Pieta from Cameroon lives on the top floor of one block. He is 33, has been in Italy since 2011 but has never worked in the country. His room is decorated with soccer balls, books, broken fax machines and a refrigerator he uses as a wardrobe, all objects he found in local trash bins.

When asked how he survives, he holds up a box of half-smoked cigarettes he has collected on his daily rounds.

"This is how I survive. I get what I need from the garbage. I eat what others throw away," he says, clutching his head between his hands, tears in his eyes.

(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin; editing by Crispian Balmer and David Clarke)

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