By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) - Italian police on Friday cleared out the "Gloomy Street" transit camp in central Rome where thousands of migrants have slept over the past year as they made their way toward northern Europe.
The Baobab center near Rome's Tiburtina train station was shut down in December, but volunteers quickly set up a camp on the street in front of the old shelter, providing tents, chemical toilets, mattresses and meals.
An estimated 60,000 migrants have slept there over the past 12 months and volunteers said about 300 migrants spent the night in Via Cupa, which means Gloomy Street in English, on Thursday.
Police moved in after dawn, rounding up dozens of people for identification. They later hauled away the mattresses, toilets and food.
"Shutting down the camp doesn't solve the problem. There will still be migrants looking for a place to sleep tonight," Andrea Costa, one of the founding members of the Baobab shelter, told Reuters.
Italy has been on the front line of Europe's immigration crisis, taking in more than 450,000 migrants who have arrived by boat from North Africa since the start of 2014, official figures show.
The state provides shelter to about 160,000 asylum seekers - eight times more than it did in 2013 - in centers up and down the country, but there are no state-funded shelters for migrants in transit. According to European Union law, they should seek asylum in Italy or be sent home.
Residents and Baobab volunteers have been calling on Rome's government to provide a more suitable location. The new city government, run by mayor Virginia Raggi, told Reuters last month a solution would be found by Aug. 15.
While police have cleared migrants out of Gloomy Street on several occasions in the past, they have always left the camp itself intact.
A residents' group hailed what appeared to be an end to the shelter. "Even though it was way overdue, they put an end to the mess that Gloomy Street had become," the group said on Facebook.
Costa said volunteers and activists were seeking new locations for the camp, including an abandoned fishery school nearby, but did not rule out staging protests in front of city hall or occupying a new space.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Janet Lawrence)