In a surprise early morning police raid Tuesday, some 60 Italian cops in riot gear, accompanied by police dogs, entered a refugee welcome centre in Rome asking to see the papers of those staying there, and arrested 27 undocumented individuals from Maghreb, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The counterterrorist raid was part of a nationwide crackdown on illegal immigrants and an effort to bolster security measures in the wake of the November 13 jihadist attacks in Paris. In less than two weeks, the Jubilee Year for Mercy initiated by Pope Francis will be inaugurated in the city of Rome, and organizers expect many millions of pilgrims to visit the city in the upcoming months.
Officials now speak openly of the possibility of terrorists infiltrating the ranks of migrants flooding into the country, after investigations into the Paris attacks revealed that one of the jihadis had come from Syria into France amidst a group of migrants attempting to enter Europe.
The Rome welcome center is run by a group called “friends of Baobab,” a pro-immigrant citizen movement born in 2004. One of the volunteers working at the Baobab center, identified only as Gianluca, said that the group seeks to guarantee the opportunity to seek asylum and the assurance of humanitarian protection for migrants. “Some of the people taken away will be repatriated because they do not meet the requirements of political refugees,” Gianluca said.
The leader of the Northern League Party, Matteo Salvini, said the morning raid was a good start, but that far more action was needed.
“What should we do now?” he said. “Deport the illegal immigrants and close the center that hosted them.”
“The reasoning behind the project is very simple,” said the prefect of Rome, Franco Gabrielli. “The Baobab is not the first and will not be the last in a series of operations that we are carrying out all over the city to ascertain the identity of those staying in the city.”
“At this time deportation is not our goal,” Gabrielli said, “but rather to determine as much as possible exactly what is going on in the city and province of Rome.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome