The old San Ferdinando tent camp that hosts migrants used as workers in the fields across the Gioia Tauro plain | Photo: ANSA
The old San Ferdinando tent camp that hosts migrants used as workers in the fields across the Gioia Tauro plain | Photo: ANSA

The organization Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU) denounced the alarming living and working conditions of foreign farm workers on the Gioia Tauro plain in Calabria, southern Italy.

"Living and working conditions for foreign farm laborers, working on the citrus harvest on the Gioia Tauro plain in Calabria, appear more dramatic than ever," says the human rights organization Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU), which assists migrans in the area.

MEDU's statement is released eleven years after violent clashes, known as the Rosarno revolt (after the town in Calabria where they started) took place between January 7 and 9. The unrest began after two African migrants were injured by unknown attackers using a compressed air rifle. MEDU says that nothing much has changed since then.

MEDU points out that there is still the "the persistent phenomenon of serious work exploitation, and also the growing precariousness of the socio-economic housing conditions and health conditions," to take into account.

The NGO highlighted that "the coronavirus pandemic found fertile ground in precarious settlements where crowded housing and terrible health and hygiene conditions favored a rapid spread of infections."

Support from MEDU

The team from the MEDU mobile clinic went back to working in the plain for the seventh consecutive year in the month of October 2020; providing health assistance and legal support to farm workers who live in the official tent camp of San Ferdinando, the container camp of Rosarno, and the abandoned farmhouses dotted around the fields in the area.

The organization estimates that there are more than 1,500 people present in the various structures, with numbers increasing in the last month.

There are more than 700 people staying in the tent camp of San Ferdinando alone, both in official tents and new shacks built every day by new arrivals.

Majority are young and male

The NGO said the population is also made up this year of young men, mainly asylum seekers and refugees from countries in western sub-Saharan Africa, with a median age of about 30 years.

Of the 100 patients seen by MEDU in the first months of its work there (October to December), 88% had a legal stay permit, but just over half of the people who provided information on their working condition (54) said they had a work contract (55%), short-term in the majority of cases.

Only a small percentage (13%) said they regularly received a pay packet. Informal work is, in fact, still the norm among workers with a contract. The employer often pays part of the salary under the table and officially declares on the pay stub fewer days than those actually worked.

Urgent appeal to restore dignity to farm workers

Between October and November 2020, local authorities created two red zones in the area due to the elevated number of people living in the precarious settlements who tested positive for COVID-19.

The first red zone deliniated the container camp in Rosarno, where screening was conducted and tents were set up to isolate positive cases. Subsequently the San Ferdinando tent camp was also isolated, but with completely ineffective measures.

The organization also reports frequent road accidents that often involve farm workers riding on bicycles to their work sites. In the month of December alone, three road accidents, one of which took the life of a 34-year-old man, involved Gioia Tauro plain workers.

The lack of public transport and street lights are in fact an additional daily risk factor. MEDU wants to underline the urgency of the need for inter-institutional action that restores dignity and legality to the area, to the farm workers, and to the entire population.

MEDU called on the government to make sure that effective and extraordinary measures be taken to protect individual and collective health.


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