Migrants working in a field of tomato plants in Calabria. Photo : ANSA/Quotidiano Del Sud
Migrants working in a field of tomato plants in Calabria. Photo : ANSA/Quotidiano Del Sud

At least 10,000 migrants employed by Italian farms live in substandard housing, according to a report published on Tuesday. In these settlements, basic services such as access to water or electricity are nonexistent. A phenomenon that favors the exploitation of migrants.

A vast and unprecedented census to establish an inventory of the living conditions of migrant workers in Italy’s agricultural sector was carried out by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies and the National Association of Italian Municipalities (Anci) between October 2021 and January 2022. Around 3,800 Italian municipalities "completed a questionnaire on the presence, flows and characteristics of migrant agricultural workers and their housing," Anci said in a statement.

The report, released on Tuesday July 19, reveals that at least 10,000 foreign people employed in Italian agriculture live in situations of extreme precarity. The phenomenon mainly exists in the south of the country but concerns the entire national territory.

Around 150 informal settlements

The municipalities reported the existence of 150 informal settlements which come in many forms, including farms, shacks, tents or caravans. Some places are very small, while others are more substantial, with the presence of thousands of people.

Migrants end up sleeping in slums consisting of makeshift shelters built with pieces of sheet metal or tarpaulins. The document shows that these dwellings are not new: 38% of them are at least seven years old and 12% are at least 20 years old.

"The houses where we stay are built with recycled materials that can be found everywhere. I made my own 'house' with planks and pieces of plastic", explained a 28-year-old Malian to France 24 Observers. "Some prefer to rent a mattress in an already built 'house'. There can be around 30 or 40 people who sleep there and who pay around 35 euros for the two or three months of the season," he explained.

Also read: Secret slaves: Indian farm workers in Italy

From file: A migrant worker encampment in the Foggia region | Photo: ANSA/Elemosineria Apostolica
From file: A migrant worker encampment in the Foggia region | Photo: ANSA/Elemosineria Apostolica

No drinking water or electricity

In the settlements, basic services are nonexistent, says the report. Drinking water, electricity and waste collection are completely absent. To obtain water, migrants get their supplies from a tanker truck which comes every three or four days.

Moreover, "the presence of public transport services near informal settlements is very rare (30% of cases)", according to the document. This is the case even though the slums have often been set up in the middle of nowhere, far from the fields: 40% of them are located more than 10 kilometers from the farms and nearly 10% are located more than 50 kilometers from the migrants’ place of work.

To get to work, migrants have little choice but to resort to "corporali", on who they become dependent. The latter are Africans who have been living in Italy for years and who own vans where they pile up the workers. They are the intermediaries between the migrants and farm owners in a system that is often referred to as modern slavery.

The estate manager "pays the capo € 7 or 8 per box [of 300 kg], who then only gives us half of the 'salary'. I also pay the capo €5 for the daily trip to the field. It's a rip-off," said the Malian worker who harvested tomatoes in exchange for €3.50 per crate in an interview with France 24 Observers.

Also read: Migrant worker in Italy: 'If you told someone in Africa [how we are living] they wouldn't believe you'

A near-impossible integration

The report also underlines the lack of access to socio-sanitary assistance in 90% of the areas where foreign workers live. Migrants are therefore far from services which would allow them to integrate, such as legal assistance, trade unions or social activities.

These living conditions worry the authors of the report, who mention that women and children live in more than one in five camps. Moreover 30% of the inhabitants are refugees or asylum seekers, people who should be protected by the state, the report states.

Also read: Migrant labor in Italian agriculture recognized as 'important'


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