After the pontiff declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy in March, Rome carried out 64 forced evictions which “violate international law and human rights”, the pro-Roma group Associazione 21 Luglio said.
News of the holy year, which begins in December and is expected to draw millions of pilgrims, threw graffiti-covered Rome – struggling with traffic, transport and garbage problems – into a clean-up frenzy.
The effort also saw a crackdown on dozens of squalid and overcrowded camps around the capital which local authorities use to house a mix of Italian-born Roma, recent migrants from eastern Europe and Sinti, a traditionally itinerant ethnic group which has been present in Italy for centuries.
“We are very worried by the clear increase in forced evictions which we have seen, every day, since the Jubilee was announced,” said the group's president Carlo Stasolla.
He said the evictions were not only illegal but also a waste of money because “they simply shift people from one part of the city to another, without resolving the housing crisis.”
The number of evictions went from an average of three a month to almost 10, and so far this year have involved around 1,100 people at an estimated cost of over €1.3 million ($1.12 million), the group said.
Associazione 21 Luglio called for a moratorium on evictions during the Jubilee year, as well as an urgent meeting to establish alternative solutions for the 40,000 or so Roma and Sinti people housed in Italy's purpose-built camps.
“It is unacceptable that forced evictions of Roma people are carried out in the run-up to and during the Jubilee,” Italian priest Alex Zanotelli, who is known for his social activism, said at the 21 Luglio press conference.
“We cannot allow the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, desired by Pope Francis, to be associated with violations of human rights.”
The European Commission last year threatened Italy with infringement procedures, expressing concern the camps “seriously limit fundamental rights”.
The Jubilee, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council, will run from December 8th until November 20th, 2016.