A spate of violence against migrant workers in Italy has underlined the exploitation and mistreatment they continue to face, despite a recent initiative by the government to grant them amnesty.
The pandemic has exposed the Italy’s reliance on undocumented migrant and refugee workers, most of whom work in agriculture—often for far below minimum wage in poor conditions. Many face discrimination, violence and control from local gangmasters, known as caporali, amounting to conditions of modern slavery.
With fields empty and produce left to rot during lockdown, the government has scrambled to protect its agricultural industry by granting undocumented migrants a six-month leave to remain.
But the scheme, introduced in May, has so far had limited success.
According to data obtained by Amnesty International, only 80,000 migrants have applied from the government’s target of 300,000, with just 12% related to agriculture.
The lack of traction is partly due to the scheme’s terms, by which only migrants whose visa expired after October 31st are eligible—even though most of Italy’s undocumented migrant workers have been in the country for years.
One such worker, Hassan, additionally argues that the scheme fails to tackle the hardships migrants and refugees face in Italy.
The Guardian reports:
“I’ve spent almost 18 years in Europe – and 15 years in Italy – but in the past 10 years I couldn’t renew my documents,” he said.
Hassan had hoped that the new economic crisis would give him a chance to obtain his papers. But under the new scheme he doesn’t qualify.
Life for Hassan will continue much like before. In order to survive, he will continue to live in slums, near the fields, as an “invisible worker”.
Workers also say that the visa scheme does nothing to address the exploitation, violence and mistreatment they endure in Italy. ‘‘Exploited migrants are treated as dead meat. They are considered objects, the property of businessmen, slaves,” Salvatore Vella, a prosecutor in Sicily, told the Guardian.
Just last month, two high-profile migrant deaths underscored the urgent need for protection.
Adnan Siddique, an agricultural worker from Pakistan, was stabbed to death for defending other migrant workers from alleged gangmasters demanding they give up half their daily wage.
Less than two weeks later, a Senegalese farmworker named Mohamed Ben Ali was killed when a fire burned down the shanty town he lived in.
Yvan Sagnet, a Cameroonian activist working against slavery in Italy, argues that all migrant workers in Italy must be granted legal status in order to change the social conditions they face, as well as to effectively safeguard the economy.
“These deaths are the result of a violent and exploitative world, in which migrants have been forced to live and work for years. And many others will die if we don’t act soon.”
Freedom United is calling on Italy to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol and implement international standards to better protect workers in Italy’s agricultural sector.
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