Migrant farm workers in Italy: Any identity but victims?

Earlier this month Calabrians and itinerant African farm workers came to blows. One politician said ‘We have to go to the root of the problem: mafia, exploitation, xenophobia and racism, which are too many roots. Also it is implied that migrants are found in southern Italy only because trafficking rings and mafiosi have forced them to be there. There are indeed controlling gangs in Calabria: There’s no doubt but that men from the ‘Ndrangheta shot at the immigrants, just to remind everyone that they control the territory: Alberto Cisterna of the National Anti-Mafia Squad. But another interpretation of the conflict was For all these years clandestine immigration has been tolerated, which feeds crime: Interior Minister Roberto Maroni. Crime – always a politician’s safe fall-back position.

Unaddressed is a typical contemporary dysfunctional migration policy that doesn’t want these migrants at the same time that native farmers need them. These farm workers, like their more famous counterparts from Mexico in the US, move from one area to another as harvests are ready: tomatoes in Campania, grapes in Sicily, olives in Puglia and Calabria for oranges.

It is also unclear what ‘evacuation’ meant in this case, whether the workers might be deported or what their status will be.

Below this story follows some background from Médecins Sans Frontières.

Migrants evacuated from southern Italian town 

9 January 2010, BBC

Italian authorities have evacuated hundreds of migrants from a southern town and brought in extra police after violent protests broke out. Some 320 African migrants, many of whom work as fruit-pickers in Calabria, were taken by bus to an emergency centre.

Extra police were deployed after two days of riots, during which 37 people were injured and cars were set alight. The violence broke out after two migrants were shot at with pellet guns by a group of local youths. Italy’s Interior Minister Roberto Maroni prompted a storm of criticism from the leftist opposition by suggesting that the violence was the result of not addressing the issue of illegal workers in the country. “There’s a difficult situation in Rosarno, like in other places, because for years illegal immigration – which feeds criminal activities – has been tolerated and nothing effective has ever been done about it,” he said according to Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.

Opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani said: “Maroni is passing the buck … We have to go to the root of the problem: mafia, exploitation, xenophobia and racism.”

Some 320 African migrants – mainly from Ghana and Nigeria – were taken by bus from the southern town of Rosarno to a reception centre at Crotone, some 170km (105 miles) away. Local residents applauded as the eight buses carrying the migrant workers left the town, AFP reports.

Police said reinforcements had been called in at intersections and squares in the town to keep order on Saturday. Many of the migrants, most of whom work as fruit-pickers in the region’s citrus farms, live in difficult conditions – camped in abandoned factories and buildings with no running water or electricity, and were paid as little as 20 euros per day.

Italy: MSF Assists Migrant Workers Living in Appalling Conditions

29 September 2009, Médecins Sans Frontières 

For the sixth consecutive year, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing health care to undocumented seasonal migrant workers in southern Italy. Once again, poor living and working conditions pose a serious threat to their mental and physical health.

Since mid-August, thousands of migrants have been flocking to the southern Italian region of Puglia for the annual tomato-picking season. The majority are from sub-Saharan Africa, living in Italy undocumented and in appalling sanitary conditions in abandoned houses and cardboard shacks without electricity or gas. Since last year, following MSF’s requests, regional authorities have taken some measures to improve living conditions for migrants, such as providing water tanks and latrines,” said Antonio Virgilio, MSF’s head of mission in Italy. “However, this is still far from enough to meet their basic needs.”

Issa, 20, from Ivory Coast, has been in Italy for two months and works in the tomato farms in Puglia. “If all goes well I will earn 30 euros (US$44) per day here, but I don’t have work every day. I live in a shack and I sleep on a mattress on the floor. I didn’t think I would have such a bad life in Italy.”

Limited access to health care, inadequate shelter and exploitation at work are some of the difficulties faced by the seasonal migrants. The consequences are seen during MSF medical consultations. Gastrointestinal complaints and general body pain are common. “These migrants are getting sick as a consequence of the conditions they are subjected to,” said Alvise Benelli, an MSF doctor in Puglia. The MSF team in Puglia provides free medical and psychological care to the undocumented migrant workers. They also facilitate access to public health facilities.

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