Squatters of Rome scrape by at the margins in Italy's crisis

Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:37am EST
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By Catherine Hornby

ROME (Reuters) - When Mariangela Schiena moved to Rome from southern Italy 11 years ago, all she hoped for was a simple life, with a roof over her head and a home where she could start a family.

After she and her 28-year old boyfriend Henok Mulugeta lost their jobs in shops six months ago in Italy's economic slump, she decided there was only one way to achieve her goals: move into a squat.

"Everything was getting more expensive, not just bills, and we couldn't make it to the end of the month," said Schiena, 31, as she shivered near a portable heater in an abandoned public archives building on the outskirts of Rome.

"The first night that I slept here, I woke up in the morning and thought: how nice! I don't have to pay rent anymore. I don't have to worry about not being able to make ends meet."

Their radical solution reflects the growing problems facing young people, immigrants and others struggling in Italy's year-long recession - key issues as campaigning begins for a national election expected in February.

Prime Minister Mario Monti has hiked taxes and cut public spending to try to reduce Italy's huge debt, measures that have pleased investors but deepened the downturn in the euro zone's third largest economy, hitting consumers and businesses hard.

Youth unemployment is now more than 35 percent, triple the overall rate, and companies usually offer young people only temporary contracts with limited benefits, meaning many live at home with their parents or move abroad.

Monti, an unelected technocrat, said at the weekend he intends to resign as soon as the 2013 budget is approved, prompting Italy's main banking and business associations to call on the next government to uphold his reform agenda.   Continued...

Unemployed Henok Mulugeta, 28, of Ethiopia, is seen in the residence where he lives with his girlfriend in Rome December 8, 2012. Mulugeta is living as a squatter in an abandoned building after he lost his job and could not pay the rent. REUTERS/Tony Gentile