The San Ferdinando migrant camp, in the Gioia Tauro plain in Calabria, Italy | Photo: ANSA/Michele Albanese
The San Ferdinando migrant camp, in the Gioia Tauro plain in Calabria, Italy | Photo: ANSA/Michele Albanese

Local authorities believe that the situation in the tent city for migrants in the Gioia Tauro plain in Calabria, southern Italy, is becoming increasingly dangerous. The facility, which has a maximum capacity of 300, is currently hosting some 350 African migrants, many of whom are farmworkers.

The prefect of the Calabria region, Massimo Mariani, announced on Wednesday (January 26) that "the tent city will be dismantled." He also said there were plans to provide better accomodation for the migrants living at the makeshift settlement in San Ferdinando.

This announcement followed a round of consultations that Mariani held with the Calabria regional government and the Municipalities of San Ferdinando and Gioia Tauro, as well as local migrant aid groups.

"We are waiting for the Region of Calabria to make funds available to launch a reception and residence project, using some confiscated assets," Mariani said. "The basic idea remains that of offering migrants residence facilities that ensure their dignity."

Calabria governor promises funding

Calabria Regional Governor Roberto Occhiuto responded promptly to Mariani's appeal, promising that funding would be made available.

"Mariani was right to announce the imminent dismantling of the tent city," Occhiuto said. "It is not acceptable that in 2022 a place can still exist where legality, individual dignity and the chance for normal civil coexistence can't be ensured. The Region of Calabria is ready to do its part. We will work to find the necessary resources for the reclamation of the area. And starting next week, we will promote a permanent roundtable with all involved institutions in order to resolve the issue."

San Ferdinando Mayor Andrea Tripodi has repeatedly criticized the regional and central governments for not doing enough to help his city with regards to the camp. "Pope Francis is the only one I haven't written to, and perhaps, if I had done so, he -- who cares so much about the suffering of migrants -- would also have come here to see such a marginalized and wounded piece of humanity," he said recently.

One migrant's story: 'There's no work here'

Hundreds have been staying at the tent city over the last few months while working in orchards nearby during the the citrus harvest. Many of these mostly African farmworkers -- who often face exploitation by their employers because they do not have legal papers -- are now moving to Puglia or Campania in search of other jobs in agriculture.

One of the migrants who is planning on leaving the camp is Draman, 39, from Mali: "In a few days I'll leave; there's no work here, or it's already done." He arrived in Italy in 2008 after experiencing the excruciating difficulty of Libya and the stormy sea of the Strait of Sicily.

Bad living conditions

Those who remain in the tent city are still living in chaos due to persistent overcrowding.

In some parts of the tent city, migrants use huge tin cans under the sun, when it's out, to heat water for showers. This way of heating water has actually become a small business in the camp, with buckets of heated water selling for 50 cents.

The camp is much like a small village, with shops -- selling things such as shoes, clothes and handicrafts. Around what remains of the tent city's fence, accumulated waste that hasn't been collected for months gives off a nauseating smell.

On New Year's Eve, a fire broke out at the tent camp, several shacks were destroyed but luckily no one was seriously hurt.

In 2019, authorities had dismantled a large camp in the same location -- where three migrants had previously died in fires. Soon after, the current camp appeared at the same spot.


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