A scene from a protest by migrant farmworkers following the killing of Soumaila Sacko, a 29-year-old migrant from Mali, in San Ferdinando (Reggio Calabria) June 4, 2018 |Photo: ANSA/Marco Costantino
A scene from a protest by migrant farmworkers following the killing of Soumaila Sacko, a 29-year-old migrant from Mali, in San Ferdinando (Reggio Calabria) June 4, 2018 |Photo: ANSA/Marco Costantino

A prosecutor in Calabria has said that in Italy there is a lack of "political choices that should solve and prevent" the exploitation of migrant farmworkers. His comments came after the arrest of 13 gangmasters and seven businessmen working in the agricultural area of Gioia Tauro in Calabria.

The public prosecutor in the Calabrian town of Palmi, Ottavio Sferlazza, is clear when he speaks about the exploitation of migrant farmworkers in the area. Sferlazza puts some of the blame on politics for the exploitation that is going on in his region. He said there is a lack of "political choices that should solve and prevent" exploitation to "ensure these people dignified living conditions that could expose them to fewer dangers."

Sferlazza didn't hide his "bitterness" over the most recent in a string of many operations in which unscrupulous people were arrested for migrant exploitation.

Notorious gangmasters -- known as 'caporali' in Italian -- exploit the already precarious conditions of many foreigners who flock to the Gioia Tauro agricultural plains in the winter months for the orange and mandarin harvest. 

In many of these cases, it has been found that gangmasters send migrants to work 12 hours a day for three euros an hour, with the help of obliging farmers. 

An operation carried out by Carabinieri police brought about the arrest of 13 gangmasters, who are also foreigners, and seven farm businessmen. Sferlazza said he was pleased with the results of the operation but didn't hide the fact that he had to "once again take note of the substitute function that the judiciary performs."

'Despite deaths, exploitation continues' 

Operations such as the one on January 8 in the agricultural plains of Gioia Tauro have taken place many times over the years. This one, however, was different from the others in that the investigation began after a migrant denounced the exasperating working conditions and pay in the fields. This hadn't happened before, and comes ten years after the infamous Rosarno immigrant revolt, in which clashes took place for days between migrants and local residents. The revolt revealed to many in other parts of Italy and Europe the conditions in which many migrants were living and working in the country, but conditions for them have changed very slowly, if at all.

The shanty towns that existed ten years ago, where many of the migrant workers were living, no longer exist. One town in San Ferdinando was razed in March 2019 after four migrants died over two years due to fires breaking out in the makeshift shacks built out of cardboard, sheet metal, and plastic. 

Sferlazza recalled the San Ferdinando example and the conditions of other shanty towns in his concluding remarks. "Years later, after the deaths that have occurred in various shanty towns due to fires, unfortunately we see that this phenomenon of exploitation continues," Sferlazza said. He added that the exploitation is "certainly fed by, and facilitated by, the neglectful situation in which these people continue to live, by now for years" due to the absence of political choices within Italian society. 
 

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