ROME: The long-standing exploitation of migrant farmworkers by criminal gangs in southern Italy has been heightened by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, a medical human rights group has claimed.
Laborers, mostly from Tunisia, Morocco, and central Africa continued to be poorly treated in Piana di Gioia Tauro, in the region of Calabria, said a report by the NGO Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU).
Titled “The pandemic of Rosarno,” the study accused the Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate of being behind a “persistent exploitation” of migrants and widespread illegal practices in one of the poorest regions parts of Italy where foreign farmworkers revolted more than a decade ago.
The report highlighted that a lack of inspections and effective measures against illegal work practices, and weak legal protection, had severely worsened the living and working conditions of the agriculture workers as well as damaging their physical and mental health.
“Then, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have made the situation intolerable for those migrants coming to work here mostly from Tunisia, Morocco, and central Africa,” the report said.
MEDU has been operating a mobile clinic in Calabria for seven years during the citrus harvesting season, providing basic medical assistance and orientation on workers’ rights to approximately 2,000 farmhands in the shantytowns scattered between the municipalities of Rosarno, San Ferdinando, Drosi, and Taurianova.
The report analyzed the period prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and the ongoing situation pointing out that the virus pandemic had exacerbated the exclusion, marginalization, and exploitation of migrant farmworkers in the area.
The MEDU team highlighted poor living, working, and hygiene conditions including lack of electricity and toilet/washing facilities, no drinking water or heating in shantytowns, inhumane working conditions, and poor diets.
It noted that 90 percent of those assisted by MEDU had stay permits: Two-thirds were asylum seekers or had been granted international protection or other forms of protection, while 25 percent were trying to renew or convert their official humanitarian protection status.
“This has become quite a difficult process after the Italian government left only few regularization possibilities to the many workers who do not meet the requirements for the conversion of a stay permit into one for work due to widespread contractual irregularities in Italy (the so called grey work),” the report added.
“This situation ends up with many migrants becoming like slaves of the Ndrangheta,” Giulia Anita Bari, a MEDU doctor and coordinator of the report, told Arab News.
“The migrants have no protection and no rights, so they end up in the hands of the Mob. Criminals treat the migrants in a very inhuman way, they pay them next to nothing. They treat them like slaves. That is unconceivable.
“Local and national politicians just do not want to see this situation, while immediate, long-term measures against farmworker exploitation and ghettoes and to promote legality should be taken immediately,” she said.