A shack destroyed after the fire at the settlement 'Torre Antonacci' in Rignano Garganico (Foggia), on June 27, 2022 | Photo: ANSA/Tatiana Bellizzi
A shack destroyed after the fire at the settlement 'Torre Antonacci' in Rignano Garganico (Foggia), on June 27, 2022 | Photo: ANSA/Tatiana Bellizzi

A 35-year-old from Gambia has died in a fire at a camp of migrant farmworkers in southern Italy. The man is the tenth person to die in a fire at a camp in the Foggia area since 2016.

The fire broke out at the makeshift camp of in the area of 'Torre Antonacci' for migrant farmworkers in the town of Rignano Garganico, early on Monday (June 27).

It destroyed two shacks and killed a man believed to be Yusupha Joof, a 35-year-old Gambian. Joof was reportedly asleep when flames enveloped his shack, made from cardboard and metal sheets. He worked as a farmhand in the fields around the nearby city of Foggia.

Ten migrants have died in fires at Foggia shantytowns since 2016

Joof is the tenth person to die in a fire at one of the migrant farmworker camps -- often referred to by locals 'ghettos' -- in the southern Italian Foggia region since 2016.

A North African migrant told news agency ANSA (an InfoMigrants partner) that he knew the victim because he had been living in the settlement for "a few years."

"He returned here to sleep, he worked in the fields during the day", he said.

The first to intervene were reportedly other migrants living in the tent camp, which currently houses around 1,500 people. Firefighters at the scene extinguished the flames and cleared the area.

"We helped extinguish the flames", a young migrant living at the camp told ANSA. "Nobody knew that someone was sleeping inside the shack. When we went inside, we discovered that someone had died."

Investigators believe fire started through accident

Police investigated the scene and are looking into the incident. Based on their investigation thusfar, police believe that the fire likely started by accident. Investigators believe that it the fire could have been caused by a short circuit in one of many electrical cables set up illegally, or by an old stove installed inside a shack. A gas canister was also reportedly found at the scene.

Regional Governor Michele Emiliano said that "Joof Yusupha's death pains and affects the community of Puglia." He called on the central government to provide more support for is region to replace makeshift 'ghetto' camps with better accommodation and to "not leave us alone."

Activists call for investigation, more support

Meanwhile, farmworkers' activists accused the authorities of acting indifferently to the death of Joof and called for a thorough investigation.

Workers organization Lega Braccianti said on Twitter: "[We want to] express [our] condolences to family members and we ask for TRUTH. The indifference of state and politics is the other side of this tragedy."

Migrant workers' rights activist Aboubakar Soumahoro tweeted that "we will make ourselves heard for Yusupha and all the invisible [against] all the indifference of state and politics committed to saving vegetables and fruit rather than protecting workers' lives."

Local unions called on the authorities to act quickly to provide safe accommodation for foreign workers in the region. They said that Italy's National Recovery and Resilience Plan (referred to as the PNRR in Italian) had provided about €100 million to end illegal settlements and create more humane living and work conditions for migrants in the area of Foggia.

"It is urgent to intervene with special measures to overcome the emergency of ghettos, transport and services for the thousands of foreign workers of the [region]. The opportunity of the PNRR can be used to carry out inclusive projects and get to the elimination of ghettos," three local union and union-affiliated representatives said (Donato Di Lella -- the secretary of the Fai CISL of Foggia, Carla Costantino, the general secretary of the CISL of Foggia and Mohammed Elmajdi, president of Anolf Puglia). This was reported by local news outlet Foggia Today.

On July 12, Puglia's regional council is set to meet with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese for an extraordinary meeting on the development of the region around Foggia.

Migrant workers in Foggia face exploitation, dangerous living situations

The southeastern Italian region of Foggia is home to a large populations of migrants working in agriculture, many of whom are undocumented. Many live in makeshift camps set up without permits. Unions as well as workers' and migrants' rights activists have repeatedly decried exploitative work arrangements as well as decrepit and dangerous living conditions migrant farmworkers in the region have to endure.

Over the past few years, there have been numerous reports of fires at shantytowns in the region. The living conditions there -- shacks made from flammable materials, illegal electrical wiring, cooking over an open fire or with gas stoves,... -- mean that there is a high risk of accidental fires, and that flames can spread quickly throughout the camp. Several of these fires have been deadly.


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