Tempers flare as temperatures soar at Rome’s migrant center

Migrants queue for food at a makeshift camp in Via Cupa (Gloomy Street) in downtown Rome, Italy,

By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) – Tempers are flaring between increasingly frustrated residents and boat migrants mostly from Africa using a well-known transit camp in central Rome as temperatures soar this summer.

Italy is taking in thousands of boat migrants every week for a third year in a row, and friction is common between them and those who live along the path many take on their journey toward northern Europe.

Set up by volunteers, the Baobab center, by Rome’s Tiburtina train station, was shut down by police in December in the wake of the Paris attacks and because the European Union wants Italy to stop migrants from moving on, not help them to do so.

But Baobab volunteers quickly set up a camp on the street in front of the old shelter with tents and chemical toilets, serving three meals a day, and migrants have flocked there in their thousands.

“We can’t open our windows because of the stench,” said Valeria, who lives with her six-year-old son and husband next to the camp in Via Cupa – Gloomy Street in English.

“The chemical toilets are never cleaned and dirty water leaks onto the street. It’s inhumane for them and for us.”

Baobab organizers estimate 40,000 have come through in the past year. Last week, about 300 men, women, children and teenage boys slept on mattresses laid out on the road, and the numbers are expected to rise as the summer wears on.

On one afternoon last week, a mother bathed her baby in a plastic tub, young men played table football, and women braided each other’s hair on a wicker couch – all in under the hot sun.

Residents and Baobab volunteers alike have been calling on Rome’s city government to provide a more suitable location, but after more than seven months none has been found.

The administration of Rome’s new mayor Virginia Raggi, elected in June, is working with institutions and humanitarian groups to come up with a plan by Aug. 15 to get the migrants off the road and into a more adequate location, the city’s social affairs office said in a statement.

Italy has been on the front line of Europe’s immigration crisis, taking in more than 420,000 boat migrants since the start of 2014, official figures show.

The state provides shelter to some 140,000 asylum seekers – seven times more than it did in 2013 – in centers up and down the Italian peninsula.


Volunteers argue that shelters for migrants in transit are needed not only for humanitarian reasons, but also to keep them out of the hands of criminal people smugglers.

During one afternoon in late July, two Baobab volunteers escorted four young Eritreans to buy bus tickets for Milan. Their final destinations were Germany, Norway and Holland.

“Had we not helped them, they could have fallen prey to people smugglers,” said Sergio, a retired civil servant and Baobab volunteer.

Residents and businesses are also worried about security.

At the end of July, in the wake of violent attacks in Europe that killed hundreds of people, an insurance office that employs 19 people relocated to another part of Rome from Gloomy Street, saying both clients and employees no longer felt safe there.

“Everyday there are attacks around Europe,” said Gianluca Fasano, owner of the insurance office. “We have no idea who is staying there. We hope they’re all good people, but we don’t know.”

Eritrean, Somali and Sudanese are the most common nationalities found at Baobab because they often have family members already living in other countries. Typically they stay no longer than two or three days before moving on.

Baobab is fully operated by volunteers – doctors, retired civil servants, designers and others – and funded by donations. Each week its Facebook page asks for specific items, such as small-size men’s shoes or Ibuprofen. Someone donated a car battery so migrants can charge their phones.

“We’re the first to say that the situation is inadequate,” said Francesca Del Giudice, a Baobab founder. “We don’t think it’s a dignified shelter for them. We want to take them off the street; instead they’re sleeping on the street.”

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

Israel’s Netanyahu aims to head off criticism with diplomatic blitz

Benjamin Netanyahu Israel Prime Minister in meeting

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Rome on Sunday to try to fend off pressure from the United States and Europe over his settlements policy and opposition to a French-led effort to forge peace with the Palestinians.

Beginning three days of intense diplomacy, the right-wing premier will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in the Italian capital, followed by talks with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Jerusalem.

One of Netanyahu’s immediate concerns is a forthcoming report from the Middle East Quartet, a mediation group made up of the United States, EU, United Nations and Russia, that is expected to use unusually tough language in criticising Israel’s expansion of settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians seek for an independent state.

Diplomats confirmed that the current language in the report is strong, on the one hand condemning Israel’s unchecked building of settlement homes, which is considered illegal under international law, and on the other persistent Palestinian incitement against Israel during a recent wave of violence.

What is unclear is whether the wording may be softened before the report is issued, probably next week, although its publication has already been delayed several times.

“As it stands, the language is strong and Israel isn’t going to like it,” said one diplomat briefed on the content. “But it’s also not saying that much that hasn’t been said before – that settlements are a serious obstacle to peace.”

Netanyahu spoke by phone to Russian President Vladimir Putin this week as part of his efforts to keep the Kremlin closely updated on developments in the region. The leaders have met face-to-face four times in the past year, with one Israeli official saying the two had developed a good understanding.

As well as a desire to defang the Quartet report, there are a series of issues Netanyahu needs to broach with Kerry, including how to conclude drawn-out negotiations with Washington on a new, 10-year defence agreement.

There is also the looming issue of a peace conference organised by the French that is supposed to convene in the autumn, although it may no longer take place in Paris.

Israeli officials oppose the initiative, seeing it as side-stepping the need for Israel and the Palestinians to sit down and negotiate directly. They argue that it provides the Palestinians a chance to internationalise the conflict, rather than dealing with the nitty-gritty on the ground.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who addressed the European Parliament on Wednesday, said Israel was feeling impatience with Europe and now was not the right time to push for peace.

“Currently, the practical conditions, the political and regional circumstances, which would enable us to reach a permanent agreement between us — the Israelis and the Palestinians — are failing to materialise,” he said.

Many diplomats also question whether the French initiative can inject life into an all-but-defunct peace process, which last broke down in 2014, but they are willing to try.

A nagging concern for Israel is that the conference will end up fixing a time frame for an agreement on ending Israel’s 49-year-old occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

If that doesn’t emerge from the French plan, it remains possible that a resolution along similar lines could be presented to the United Nations Security Council before the end of the year. That is another reason why Netanyahu will be eager to sit down with Ban for talks on Tuesday.

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Italian Cities Take Drastic Steps to Reduce High Air Pollution

A few Italian cities are taking some dramatic steps to reduce the amount of pollution in the air.

Milan is banning all private vehicles like cars and motorcycles from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday through Wednesday, according to a posting on the city’s website.

Rome has also introduced some restrictions on motorcycle and moped use due to a high level of air pollution there. The city is also saying that homes and offices must keep their thermostats between 62 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, another anti-pollution measure.

In San Vitaliano, located just outside Naples, the mayor banned bakeries and catering businesses, including pizzerias, from burning wood chips, pellets and charcoal to cook – a staple of Italian pizza making – unless business owners first install an appropriate air filter.

Rome and Milan, Italy’s two largest cities, both rank in the top 20 when it comes to Europe’s most polluted cities, according to the Soot Free for the Climate campaign. Both have previously restricted traffic to fight pollution, according to a BBC report, and are doing so again because there hasn’t been any recent rain to help sweep away the smog.

San Vitaliano, on the other hand, is a relatively small municipality of about 6,000 people, though officials there are no less concerned about air pollution’s impact on public health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 7 million people died as a result of air pollution in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. That represented about 1 in 8 global deaths.

The WHO has said polluted air is the world’s largest environmental health risk as it can fuel other issues like heart and lung diseases. The organization is especially concerned about fine particulate matter, which can adversely affect one’s health even at relatively small levels.

In issuing his edict, San Vitaliano mayor Antonio Falcone noted the city “has recorded high values ​​of pollutants,” particularly the fine particulate matter, and no one has been able to determine the source of the problem, which has worsened as temperatures became colder.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported Thursday that 10 cities in northeast China have asked residents to stay inside because of dangerous air pollution.

Pope: Devil Is “The Father of Hate”

Pope Francis surprised of a small Roman district by appearing at a shantytown for homeless families and then teaching at a nearby parish.

The Pope stopped at a shantytown called “Campo Arcobaleno” where he visited with the families and prayed with them.  He also met with some of the homeless families at the parish of San Michele Arcangelo where the church cares for the homeless.

“The fact that people do not know your name, and call you ‘homeless’ and you carry this: It is your cross, and your patience,” said Pope Francis. “But there is something in the heart of all of you – of this, please be assured – there is the Holy Spirit.”

The Pope then met with the children of the parish, speaking mostly to the older children in attendance about war and evil in the world.  He had the children make a list of places they know war is taking place such as Iraq, Ukraine and Africa and then he said that wars are easier for people who do not possess God.

The Pope asked the children who was the father of war and smiled when they responded “the devil.”

Pope Francis then said the devil is the “father of hate” and “the father of lies.”

“But God wants unity,” Pope Francis said. “If in your heart you feel jealousy, this is the beginning of war.  Jealousies are not of God.”

“Because the devil takes stupidity and makes a world,” he continued. “Then these enmities continue and multiply for years.  It destroys the family: Parents suffer because their children do not speak to each other, or with the wife of a son…And so this jealousy and envy, it is sowed by the devil.  And the only one who can drive out demons is Jesus.  The only one who can heal these things is Jesus. So to each of your: Have yourself healed by Jesus.”

The concluded the visit with a teaching to the entire congregation about the importance of Jesus in their lives and how vital is it to stay in contact with the Scriptures.

“Have this daily contact with the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.  “Pray with the Gospel.”

Pope Gives “Top 10 Secrets to Happiness”

The Pope has given an interview with an Argentinean newspaper where he was advising people to slow down and enjoy their lives.  The Pope provided a list of ten items that he said were key for living a healthy life physically and spiritually.

The list, as published by the Catholic News Service:

1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

3. “Proceed calmly” in life. The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the protagonist – gaucho Don Segundo Sombra – looks back on how he lived his life.

“He says that in his youth he was a stream full of rocks that he carried with him; as an adult, a rushing river; and in old age, he was still moving, but slowly, like a pool” of water, the pope said. He said he likes this latter image of a pool of water – to have “the ability to move with kindness and humility, a calmness in life.”

4. “A healthy sense of leisure.” The pleasures of art, literature and playing together with children have been lost, he said.

“Consumerism has brought us anxiety” and stress, causing people to lose a “healthy culture of leisure.” Their time is “swallowed up” so people can’t share it with anyone.

Even though many parents work long hours, they must set aside time to play with their children; work schedules make it “complicated, but you must do it,” he said.

Families must also turn off the TV when they sit down to eat because, even though television is useful for keeping up with the news, having it on during mealtime “doesn’t let you communicate” with each other, the pope said.

5. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because “Sunday is for family,” he said.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. “We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and be more vulnerable to suicide, he said.

“It’s not enough to give them food,” he said. “Dignity is given to you when you can bring food home” from one’s own labor.

7. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation “is one of the biggest challenges we have,” he said. “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'”

8. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,'” the pope said. “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

9. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs. “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing,” the pope said.

10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said, and “the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive” and dynamic.

Vatican spokesmen said the list fell in line with the Pope’s previous teachings on giving up material possessions and finding joy in helping others.

Meriam Ibrahim Free

Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for not renouncing her faith in front of a Sudanese court, is free.

Italian vice-minister for foreign affairs Lapo Pistelli posted a picture of himself with Ibrahim and her family on Facebook with a message that read “with Meriam, Maya, Martin and Daniel, a few minutes from Rome.  Mission accomplished.

The family will meet with the Pope before flying to the United States to start a new life.

The move was a surprise to everyone associated with the case and there have been no details released yet regarding how Italy was able to get Ibrahim and her family out of the country.  Unconfirmed reports say the Italian government and the Vatican entered negotiations two weeks ago to free the family.

Ibrahim’s attorney Mohaned Mostafa told Reuters not only did he not know the she was leaving the country, but that the charges the government was using to keep her from leaving have not been dismissed.

Her family had also been keeping her in the country by suing to have a court declare her a Muslim against her wishes but that suit was dropped earlier this week.

Pope Opens Papal Gardens To Public

Pope Francis has taken another step to reach out beyond the walls of the Vatican by opening the Pope’s summer residence to the public for the first time in history.

The gardens around Castel Gandolfo, a ridge-top castle 20 miles from Rome, will now be available for the public to tour, walk and meditate in the gardens.  The gardens are terraced with views of the sea.

The grounds also include a small farm including a herd of cows that supply milk and butter to the Vatican.   The farm also produces eggs, olives and honey which will be sold to the public at the grounds and at a supermarket in Vatican City.

The gardens will be open mornings Monday through Saturday and cost 26 euros for admission.

The escape from Rome to the summer home was initiated by Pope Clement VII in the 16th century.  Pope Francis says that he plans to spend the summer in Rome because he has too much work to do.

Pope Pleads For Refugees and the Homeless

Pope Francis went to give alms Sunday at a Rome parish next to the city’s main railway station on the church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees where he spoke out on the plight of the world’s refugees.

“Let us think of the many migrants, the many refugees and their suffering,” Francis said to those in attendance.  “Their lives are often without jobs and without documents and with a lot of pain.”

The Pope is the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina.   The parish where he spoke on Sunday provides the needs of immigrants and homeless in Rome.

The Pope also spoke bold words against human traffickers that prey on those attempting to reach a better life in a new country.  He called them “merchants of human meat who want to enslave migrants” and asked for governments to focus on not only helping immigrants but jailing traffickers.

Netanyahu To Meet With Pope Francis

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu is leading a delegation of six government officials to Rome for a meeting with Pope Francis.

The two-day visit will be the first time the two men have met face-to-face.

Officials close to the scheduled meeting say it’s likely the two men will discuss the Iranian nuclear issue and ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli President Shimon Peres invited the Pope for a visit to Christian holy sites in April followed by Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas who met Pope Francis on October 17th. Sources say it’s likely the Pontiff will visit the Holy Land near the end of May 2014.

Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic relations in 1993 but continue to have issues regarding property rights and tax exemptions for the Catholic Church. In June, negotiators pledged to step up their work to solve outstanding issues.

“Geyser” Erupts Near Rome Airport

A crater six feet wide and three feet deep appeared overnight near the end of a runway at Rome’s airport, spewing clouds of toxic gas 15 feet into the air.

The crater was discovered by drivers Saturday morning in the middle of a roundabout 900 feet from a runway’s end. Crowds had gathered to look at the crater until firefighters and vulcanologists closed the area because of deadly gas believed to be a mix of carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and methane. Continue reading