Italian police have forced 150 migrants to abandon a makeshift camp in Ventimiglia, a town near the French border. The seafront camp, which has been home to hundreds of people over the last four months, was cleared at 6am on Wednesday.
Migrants — largely Africans who fled Sudan and Eritrea — established the camp in June after France tightened its border. They initially took refuge on rocks overlooking the Mediterranean before relocating to a nearby parking lot and vacant tourist office.
A dozen police trucks and bulldozers arrived early Wednesday morning, evacuating the camp before razing it to the ground.
Many of the camp's inhabitants had already relocated to a Red Cross shelter near the town's train station. Some 50 migrants and activists refused to leave site on Wednesday and gathered instead on rocks along the coastline, where police surrounded them.
Around 15 European activists have been living in the camp, and one — a woman who asked to be identified by the pseudonym Maria — estimated that 200 police officers were involved in the operation to clear the site. "We all ran onto the rocks so they wouldn't catch us," she said.
After negotiating all day with the authorities, the migrants and activists left the rocks at 5pm to board buses chartered to take them to the Red Cross shelter. Two weeks ago, a spokesman for the shelter told VICE News that the facility — which housed 250 people at the time — was approaching maximum capacity.
A Red Cross spokesman told VICE News the organization would make room for the migrants who were dislodged on Wednesday.
Built in the shadow of luxury apartment buildings, the camp subsisted on donations from local migrant support groups. The occupants staged regular sit-ins at the nearby border crossing, shouting slogans such as "We will not go back," and "Hurriyya," the Arabic word for freedom.
Volunteers have described the "No Border camp," as it is sometimes known, as highly-organized. Residents governed themselves and attended meetings every other day to orient new arrivals, informing them of camp rules about hygiene, food, and sleeping arrangements.
The migrants had access to legal aid and attended language classes taught by volunteers. The camp's improvised classroom and the sleeping quarters were located under the arches of a railway bridge used by trains linking Ventimiglia to the French border town of Menton.
Migrant camp in Ventimiglia. So little humanity.
Italian police said the camp was cleared because its occupants were "illegally occupying public land," and "stealing water and electricity."
Ventimiglia Mayor Enrico Ioculano and Liguria Governor Giovanni Toti ordered the evacuation a few days ago, saying that camp residents — particularly those protesting along the border — were causing "problems."
"It's what we have wanted for some time," the mayor said. "Now the police will decide where to send the migrants."
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray
Additional reporting by VICE News Italia. Follow them on Twitter: @VICENewsIT