Farmworkers in Italy | Photo: ANSA/Quotidia Del Sud
Farmworkers in Italy | Photo: ANSA/Quotidia Del Sud

NGOs and local authorities in southern Italy have expressed concern for migrant farmworkers. Many have been left without a job and are living in dire conditions amid the coronavirus emergency.

NGOs and mayors in southern Italian cities of Puglia and Calabria have expressed worry about the poor living and working conditions for migrants this week. They denounced that many farmhands are working without a contract and with no protective equipment in the midst of the coronavirus emergency. Another cause for concern is that many migrant farmworkers live in illegal settlements, where hygienic and sanitary conditions are poor.

A reported 2,500 people are estimated to live in eight illegal settlements in the province of Foggia, including a shantytown in Borgo Mezzanone. About 1,000 are living in Calabria, particularly in the plane of Gioia Taura, where they are employed to pick oranges and clementines and where they live in tent camps and shacks.

Migrant farmworkers secure food supply

"Now that we have the problem of providing enough food to supermarkets due to coronavirus, we are 'discovering' that we need these workers", said Francesco Piobbichi, an activist for migrant rights who works for the Mediterranean Hope project in Rosarno, Calabria. He called on the authorities to provide migrant farmworkers with "dignified living arrangements."

Once the harvesting season for citrus fruits ended in Calabria, migrants would move to Saluzzo to pick peaches, apricots, apples and tomatoes in Puglia, said Ruggero Marra, a member of the Usb union in Calabria. However, due to current travel restrictions, he said, "they are stranded." He added: "How will they move? They are already being stopped and being sent back if they don't have a contract. But how will they eat without a job?"

Protest for food at tent camp

Most of the workers in the area are migrants from Africa between the ages of 20 and 40, said Marra. Some 440 are believed to be living in the tent camp of San Ferdinando, a town in Calabria with 5,000 residents. The camp has been there since the summer of 2017. Although residents were evicted a year ago by then-premier Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League party, the structure is reportedly still there and has only seven bathrooms. Residents there staged a demonstration on Tuesday, asking for help to get food.

Mayor Andrea Tripodi said he was "pained" by the situation. The presence of migrants in the area, he said, has always been key for local agriculture and the local tent camp hosting migrant farmworkers should remain in place until the end of the coronavirus emergency but will be "useless" when the emergency is over. "It is only a place of suffering and resentment", he said.


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