Workers from the Trani Megamark group while they pick tomatoes in Foggia on September 23, 2019. They are part of the first campaign against exploitation in the farm industry | Photo: ANSA/FRANCO CAUTILLO
Workers from the Trani Megamark group while they pick tomatoes in Foggia on September 23, 2019. They are part of the first campaign against exploitation in the farm industry | Photo: ANSA/FRANCO CAUTILLO

Four Pakistani nationals have been arrested on charges of exploiting asylum seekers in the Italian countryside, paying them only 50 euros per month. "I was a virtual prisoner," one of the victims of a group that was allegedly involved in illegal labor intermediation and exploitation said.

Four Pakistani nationals were arrested last Wednesday in the town of Forli in Italy's Emilia Romagna region on charges of labor exploitation. The suspects allegedly exploited asylum seekers in the countryside, paying them only 50 euros per month. 

One of the vicitms in a report filed as part of a preliminary investigation said: ''They gave me just enough to survive and I had no choice but to continue working for them since I cannot work for Italians directly. I continued to work in the hope that, as soon as possible, they would give me enough money to send to Pakistan."

The operation against labor exploitation found that those arrested had recruited asylum seekers and made them work in the fields for 50 euros per month for over 80 hours per week while housing them in dilapidated small country homes. 

The victim said that ''if I could have, I would have left immediately'' but one of those arrested ''would have ruined everything for me. I wouldn't have been able to work anymore. I had no choice. If he had found out I told the truth, I would have been in danger and so would my family in Pakistan.'' 

No contracts 

The 64-page report documents the threats and intimidations the victims were subjected to as well as wiretaps showing that those arrested organized the activities without ever drawing up contracts. 

"It is difficult to work legally and otherwise we don't earn anything,'' another one of those arrested said. 

Operation by authorities 

About 45 workers were exploited, most of whom asylum seekers. Nine others in addition to the Pakistanis arrested were reported to the authorities, including the owners of farms in Forlì, Rimini and Ravenna that had employed foreigners for fruit and vegetable harvesting. 

Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova praised the operation, saying that "the law against labor exploitation has been shown to be effective once again as well as just and necessary if we want to get rid of illegality in our countryside." 

Those arrested recruited the foreigners, Pakistanis and Afghans, through threats and intimidation and kept them under constant surveillance. It is estimated that they earned between 80,000 and 100,000 euros between September and January and it was found that this money was sent via Western Union and Money Gram to Pakistan to the accounts of nonexistent individuals. Forli prosecutor Maria Teresa Cameli called the case an example of ''shameful induction into servitude''.
 

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