Migrants during one of the clearings of the San Ferdinando shantytown, in the province of Reggio Calabria, 6 March 2019. Migrants are currently living in a tent camp equipped with essential services | Photo: ANSA/MARCO COSTANTINO
Migrants during one of the clearings of the San Ferdinando shantytown, in the province of Reggio Calabria, 6 March 2019. Migrants are currently living in a tent camp equipped with essential services | Photo: ANSA/MARCO COSTANTINO

There is concern in Italy over the possible spread of coronavirus at the irregular tent camps of migrant farmworkers in the country's southern fields. In San Ferdinando, a special cleaning of the tent camp is underway, while associations that support migrants in the Gioia Tauro plain are alarmed.

 A total of 440 migrant farmworkers are currently living in tents and containers spread across a one-hectare area of land in the town of San Ferdinando in the province of Reggio Calabria in Italy's south. They often eat and cook inside and they also have bathrooms and showers. 

However, Mayor Andrea Tripodi said "hygiene standards aren't those of the western world and therefore there must be more aid and presence", especially if cases of coronavirus break out. 

The 5,000-resident town, where the city council has been dissolved three times for mafia infiltration, has a new migrant tent camp. Thus far, there haven't been any cases of coronavirus at the camp, but Tripodi is planning for the worst. 

He has therefore asked the prefecture to provide more tents and restrooms to better manage a possible quarantine inside the camp. "There was willingness, but I don't feel calm. Increased attention to hygiene is the only thing that can be done now," he said. As a result, a special cleaning operation got underway on Thursday in the tent camp, which now stands in place of the notorious "ghetto" that was cleared a year ago. 

That makeshift camp had been set on fire numerous times, with three migrant deaths between 2018 and 2019. 

'Contagion within the informal camps would be impossible to manage' 

Volunteer associations that work with migrants living in makeshift camps, abandoned farms, and tents in the Gioia Tauro plain are also alarmed. They said the population -- about 1,000 people, mostly men between the ages of 20 and 45 years old, who work in the fields -- is "at high risk." 

"A contagion in the informal settlements would be difficult to control and impossible to manage for the local health service, which, among other things, has serious and well-known structural deficiencies," said a statement by Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU), Mediterranean Hope, Border Health (Sanità di Frontiera), CSC Nuvola Rossa, and the Migrant Solidarity Committee (Comitato Solidarietà Migranti). 

They said that tight spaces, lack of ventilation systems, and the lack of water and electricity in some of the settlements complicate even the most basic hygiene necessities such as frequent hand-washing. 

The NGOs are therefore calling for more tents to better distribute the migrants; more restrooms, and that the restrooms be disinfected twice a day; an ad hoc quarantine area; and disinfectant hand gel at the entrance. In addition, they are asking that stay permits be renewed at Calabrian police stations so that migrants can avoid having to travel to other cities if they would have otherwise had to do so. The migrants still have access to a clinic in nearby Polistena, run by the NGO Emergency, including a shuttle bus to the clinic that runs twice a day to pick up and drop off those who need it. 

"We use an eight-seater van that we currently aren't filling to capacity in order to maintain safety distances," said Mauro Destefano, project coordinator for the Emergency clinic. MEDU, on the other hand, has suspended its medical exams, which had thus far been offered with a camper. It will now offer a telephone-based triage service with doctors. 
 

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