The burned remains of the migrant camp in Calabria | Credit: Alessandro Sgherri/ANSA
The burned remains of the migrant camp in Calabria | Credit: Alessandro Sgherri/ANSA

Migrants who had been forced to work in the fields in southern Italy for 25€ ($30) per day have been left homeless in the middle of winter after a fire burned down the camp in Calabria where they were living.

"We cannot continue living in tents in these conditions," is the most frequently heard complaint among migrants who had been living in a shantytown that recently burnt to the ground near Rosarno in southern Italy. One woman was killed in the fire and another severely injured, while 200 shacks were destroyed. 

Fear among the migrant community here is more prevalent than hope. These people are forced to engage in back-breaking labor for 12 hours a day to earn 25€ ($30). At night they have to sleep in the freezing cold in run-down shacks, amid mud and rubbish. Many do not even have a shack to go back to since the fire.

Demba's story 

Demba is 20, comes from Gambia and arrived in Italy in 2014 after crossing the sea from Libya in a rubber dinghy. "Adesso," he said in broken Italian. "I am based in Basilicata and I move between Calabria and Puglia, depending on the season, to work in the fields." This is like a kind of migration within his migration. 

In order to save his most precious possession from the fire, which was his permit of stay, Demba risked his life and severly burning one of his hands. But he returned to the fields immediately after being released from hospital. He needs to work to survive, even if he is underpaid. Like all the migrants living in the burned camp, he dreams of finding a decent home. 

"We are tired of living in the mud and we can't take it anymore," a camp resident called Mohamed said. The other young Africans standing around him nod in agreement. 

Humanitarian work by 'Papa Africa' 

Helping to alleviate the migrant's problems as much as possible are two locals who work together and are are known as 'Papa Africa.' One is Bartolo Mercuri, a furniture maker who has been helping migrants for 20 years. The other is Father Roberto Meduri, the priest of the Sant'Antonio del Bosco parish. Even in such a tragic situation as the current one, the two are the main reference point for the migrants, providing hot meals, medicine and any other assistance that is needed. 

"Papa Africa is good," a Senegalese migrant said, laughing a bit when asked where he would be spending the night. However, fears about the future are prevalent, and incidents like the one on January 27 only worsen people's anxiety. Nevertheless, the migrants in the camp continue to hope for a better life.

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