The shantytown of San Ferdinando in the plane of Gioia Tauro, near Reggio Calabria | Photo: ANSA/ALESSANDRO SGHERRI
The shantytown of San Ferdinando in the plane of Gioia Tauro, near Reggio Calabria | Photo: ANSA/ALESSANDRO SGHERRI

Italian authorities say they have dismantled a criminal ring exploiting migrant farm workers in the area of Gioia Tauro, in the southern region of Calabria. The migrants were forced to work for up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and were paid between two and three euros per hour, investigators said.

Carabinieri police on January 8 arrested 20 suspects as part of the investigation coordinated by the State attorney's office in the Calabrian city of Palmi. Investigative sources said the migrants were forced to work between 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, without any type of protection. 

Foreign gangmasters allegedly paid them two to three euros per hour on behalf of complacent local entrepreneurs operating in the citrus fruit sector in the plane of Gioa Tauro. 

The arrests on January 8 followed an investigation coordinated by prosecutors in Palmi that kicked off after a migrant reported his alleged gangmasters to police. 

Overall, Carabinieri police arrested 20 people, including 13 who were detained and seven who were placed under house arrest. In addition, nine people, including local entrepreneurs, were ordered to report to the police or were placed under mandatory residence by judicial authorities. The suspects under arrest include 13 alleged gangmasters and seven farm entrepreneurs. 

Operation 'Euno' 

The operation, dubbed ''Euno'' after the name of a Sicilian slave who in 136 BC led the first slave war against powerful landowner Damofilo, followed investigations carried out by Carabinieri police from the stations of San Ferdinando and Gioia Tauro, with the support of labor commissioners in Reggio Calabria. The migrant who first filed a complaint is a Senegalese worker and his alleged gangmaster is from Ghana, investigators said. The probe started in July 2018 and ended in January 2019, unveiling what investigators described as a network of gangmasters from central Africa exploiting farm laborers. The alleged gangmasters lived in shantytowns in San Ferdinando and Rosarno. 

Migrants lived, worked 'in dire conditions' 

Investigative sources said gangmasters picked up migrant farmhands in shantytowns in San Ferdinando and Rosarno at around 5 AM, driving old and unsafe minivans and cars. They subsequently took them to different areas in the plane of Gioia Tauro where they were employed to pick citrus fruit. Gangmasters reportedly crammed up to 15 people in vans designed for a maximum of nine passengers. 

Migrants, who already lived in dire conditions in shantytowns, were forced to sit on plastic pails, old tires or wooden boxes inside the van. A Liberian citizen involved in the probe is also accused of selling marijuana and exploiting prostitution. He allegedly drove Nigerian women from Rosarno to the shantytown of San Ferdinando where they were forced to work as prostitutes and to give part of their earnings to their exploiter, investigative sources said.

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