Moroccan workers fly in to rescue Italy’s harvest

A Fiumicino airport employee wearing a "Smart-Helmet" portable thermoscanner to screen passengers and staff for COVID-19 (R), scans a fellow airport staff at boarding gates on May 5, 2020 at Rome's Fiumicino airport during the country's lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 24 May 2020

Moroccan workers fly in to rescue Italy’s harvest

  • About 350,000 foreigners work temporarily each year in Italy’s agricultural sector

ROME: A special flight arrived in Italy carrying 124 Moroccan workers, the first in an army of migrant laborers who will help harvest the country’s summer crops amid a workforce shortage in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The flight from Casablanca, which landed in Pescara in Italy’s central Abruzzo region, is part of a so-called “green corridor” for migrants seeking agricultural work.
The corridor was established after a government decree earlier this month allowing nearly 400,000 undocumented migrants to carry out seasonal farm work this year.
During three months of lockdown, thousands of unregistered migrants have worked around Italy harvesting fruit and vegetables. All risked arrest if caught by police.
Following the government decree, migrant laborers can work legally and receive medical care if needed.
Ten of the first group of Moroccans will work with Modesto Angelucci, 29, whose farm in the Avezzano region produces potatoes, carrots, fennel and spinach.
“They will comply with quarantine, like anyone who arrives from abroad. These are specialized people, who can’t be easily replaced,” Angelucci told a TV channel.
“A field worker must be trained and it takes time to do so,” he added.
Angelucci said that he is reluctant to hire inexperienced local workers. The Moroccans have been employed in line with government regulations, and have insurance and special safety equipment for the pandemic, such as masks and gloves.

SPEEDREAD

The corridor was established after a government decree earlier this month allowing nearly 400,000 undocumented migrants to carry out seasonal farm work this year.

About 350,000 foreigners work temporarily each year in Italy’s agricultural sector.
Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova said that due to coronavirus, the country faces a shortage of “between 250,000 and 270,000” day laborers.
An influx of foreign workers is needed to revive the farm economy, “which is in deep crisis after two months of total closure,” she said.
Every summer thousands of Africans, Bulgarians and Romanians travel to Italy to collect tomatoes and fruit.
“You start as a pawn and you learn. I already have a driver’s license for a tractor,” Moroccan Mounam Benkirrou, 34, told an Italian newspaper.
The “green corridors” also will be used to bring Indian and Macedonian day laborers who are skilled in harvesting fennel.
According to the employers’ federation Confindustria, 30,000 Italians have signed up as day laborers because of the coronavirus crisis, while in the past only migrants, mainly from North Africa, worked in the fields.


“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

Updated 59 min 27 sec ago

“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

  • Troops can go in ’very quickly,’ Trump says

CHICAGO: The firestorm of protest, arson and looting that has consumed the US for five days began at the counter of an Arab American grocery store.

Staff working for Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, the owner of Cup Foods, called Minneapolis police after George Floyd, 46, twice tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase.

Officers who arrested Floyd held him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded that he could not breathe. He lost consciousness and died later in hospital. One officer has been charged with third-degree murder and further charges are expected.

“What took place outside … was not in our hands,” Abumayyaleh told US TV. “The murder and execution was something done by the police, and it was an abuse of power. The police brutality needs to stop.”

Abumayyaleh said he knew Floyd as a customer, and as someone who was always pleasant. He did not find out until the following morning that the man had died. “We were all outraged,” he said, and Floyd “may not have even known that the bill was counterfeit.”

The store owner and his sons, Samir, Adam and Mahmoud, have gone into hiding in the face of a wave of threats against them on social media. They took down their store’s Facebook page and its landline phone has been disconnected.

Minneapolis has more than 50 Arab- and Muslim-owned stores mostly north of where the incident occurred, all operating under statewide COVID-19 restrictions. Arab store owners said they feared speaking out publicly about the incident.

An unidentified man who answered the phone at one Arab-owned store told Arab News that both the killing of Floyd and vandalism against businesses “is wrong.”

Since Floyd died last Tuesday, protesters have vandalized, looted and burned down more than 200 stores in Minneapolis. On Friday and Saturday, the violence spread to New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte North Carolina.

In Minnesota, protesters maintained a daily vigil in front of the Cup Foods store at 3759 Chicago Avenue, painting walls and the street with murals and graffiti in memory of Floyd. After four nights of confrontations in the city, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the state’s national guard on Saturday for the first time since the Second World War.

US President Donald Trump said troops could be deployed if local authorities requested their help. “We could have our military there very quickly,” he said.