Squatting is the action of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or a building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have lawful permission to use. The United Nations estimated in 2003 that there were one billion slum residents and squatters globally. Squatting occurs worldwide and tends to occur when people who are poor and homeless find empty buildings or land to occupy for housing. It has a long history, broken down by country below.
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In developing countries and least developed countries, shanty towns often begin as squatted settlements. In African cities such as Lagos, a few of the population live in slums. There are pavement dwellers in India and in Hong Kong there are rooftop slums. Informal settlements in Latin America are known by names such as villa miseria (Argentina), pueblos jóvenes (Peru) and asentamientos irregulares (Guatemala, Uruguay). In Brazil, there are favelas in the major cities and land-based movements.
In industrialized countries, there are often residential squats and also political squatting movements, which can be anarchist, autonomist or socialist in nature, for example in the self-managed social centres of Italy or squats in the United States. Oppositional movements from the 1960s and 1970s created freespaces in Denmark or squatting village in the Netherlands, and in England and Wales, there were estimated to be 50,000 squatters in the late 1970s. Each local situation determines the context: in Athens, Greece, there are refugee squats; Germany has social centres; in Spain there are many squats.