Italy is set to issue new guidelines on refugee evictions after the UN criticised the ousting of hundreds of people from a Rome building last week, local media reported Saturday.
The unexpected eviction -- carried out when Rome is virtually deserted at the height of the holiday season -- was seen by commenters as a sign of hardening attitudes in Italy towards asylum seekers.
On the morning of August 19, police rushed into the building near Rome's Termini main train station, giving the 800 people inside a mere 15 minutes to vacate.
The building had been peacefully occupied since 2013 by mainly refugees and asylum seekers from Eritrea and Ethiopia, some in the country for as long as 15 years.
"I left everything behind," a 30-year-old refugee told AFP on condition of anonymity.
On Thursday, authorities returned to evict the remaining people, using water canons and batons to forcibly remove the hundred or so refugees still on the premises.
The violence quickly escalated with the squatters responding by throwing gas canisters and rocks at police. The violence "on both sides" was later condemned by top cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The images of violence went viral in Italy, with one video in particular of a police official making disparaging remarks sparking outrage.
The video showed the official saying: "Those people have to disappear, too bad for them. If they throw something, break their arm".
While opposition parties on the extreme right welcomed the evictions, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) voiced "grave concern".
UNHCR urged Italian authorities to "find an immediate solution for the people currently sleeping under the stars and ensure adequate integration measures for those with a right to international protection".
According to local reports, the interior ministry will propose new guidelines outlining that any future refugee expulsions will have to include relocation solutions for the most vulnerable.
But relocating the Rome refugees has proved problematic.
Italian authorities have proposed to relocate the refugees to housing about 75 kilometres (50 miles) from Rome, which would delay enrolment for children already registered in Roman schools.
And the city's leftist mayor has opposed the relocation, saying he has already welcomed 40 asylum seekers in a town of 3,100 people.
Several hundred people, mainly leftists and migrants, demonstrated in Rome Saturday against the evictions.
More than 600,000 people from Africa, Asia and the Middle East have arrived in Italy since 2014.
As it has become harder for such migrants to reach other European countries, Italy's reception facilities have come under strain and the centre-left government, facing elections next year, is under pressure on the issue.
Interior Minister Marco Minniti, who has ultimate responsibility for the initial eviction, has recently overseen a series of controversial moves aimed at ending the crisis.
These include steps to curb the activity of charity and other privately funded boats rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean and Italian naval support for Libyan coastguard efforts to intercept boats headed for Europe.
But Italy has proven to be a stable country for refugees and asylum seekers -- 40 percent of whom are approved for a residence permit though thousands still wait for a decision.
Once approved, refugees go through a six-month integration process where they learn Italian and are offered job and education resources.
But many find themselves on their own because there aren't enough places available. And those who do manage to find jobs in a country with 37 percent youth unemployment may not be able to find adequate housing.
"In Italy, we live like animals," an Eritrean refugee told AFP on Wednesday after the building was partially cleared.
The 28-year-old, who requested anonymity, railed against EU rules that prevent him from joining family in Sweden or in Belgium.
Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi blamed the current immigration situation on "years of negligence," adding that the "absence of serious national policies" has "created a war between poor people".