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.
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.