Tags / slave labour
Rosarno in Calabria, Southern Italy has about 15,000 inhabitants. It is one of the poorest areas in the whole of Italy and unemployment is very high. It is one of the main orange producing areas in Europe and each winter, thousands of migrants travel to this small agricultural town to scratch a living picking oranges that will end up on sale in markets and supermarkets all over Europe.
In January 2010, the issue of slave labour and the squalid living conditions in Rosarno went through the media, but the interest waned quickly. At that time, the field workers had rebelled against the oppression and inhumane living and working conditions. There was no resistance until then or since then, because the never-ending reservoir of people willing to work for less and less money in order to pay for food is not ending. Without work permits migrants live in constant fear of being betrayed to the police.
In January 2010, young followers of the 'Ndrangheta shot several black migrant workers with shotguns. Although this practice was not an isolated case, plantation workers came together in solidarity for the first time and erected roadblocks. Clashes ensued, cars and shop windows were damaged. The media spoke of the "Black Mob". But Rosarno is - as already announced at the entrance of the town - a video-monitored city. The evaluation of the video surveillance brought to light, contrary to the expectations of many, that in reality not the migrants had plundered the city and beaten up locals, but on the contrary, groups of local Italians had performed a veritable manhunt. In the days following the riots, crowds of Africans fled from Rosarno.
Desperate to find work however, they returned the next winter and ever since. The work and living conditions have not improved
Calabria is still a region of emigration, because unemployment and corruption are high. The tourism industry is poorly developed and the Calabrian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta - which is said to control the orchards of the south alongside the European cocaine trade - ubiquitous. The decay and the absence of the state are visible everywhere.
Rosarno has many long straight roads seemingly leading to nowhere. Rubbish is lying everywhere and local residents dispose of it in the outskirts.
Italy is a major producer of citrus fruits in Europe and Calabria is the second biggest orange growing area. Much of the harvesting of Italy's 870,000-ton annual orange crop comes from this area. The majority of the oranges grown around Rosarno are cheap, industrial grade fruits favoured for processing into concentrates.
Harvesting oranges in the cold winter months is hard. Most of the thousands of African migrants work without a contract. The usual wage for a days work is 25 Euros. Depending on the farmers, some get paid by box, which means 1 Euro for 25 kilos. When you work really hard from the early morning hours until sunset, the strong and healthy ones can sometimes make up to 40 Euros a day, a young man from Burkina Faso tells us. But this is not usual. Gangmasters usually charge extra fees for transport and sometimes even a compulsory lunch.
The market price for oranges has fallen below the cost of production for cheap oranges used for concentrates. Most farmers only survive because of EU agricultural subsidies. Even with the subsidies, some farmers leave the oranges to rot, as it is not worth harvesting them anymore.
Finding work is not easy, even during the labor intensive winter months. With the first sunlight, hundreds of African migrant workers flock to the city centre. They wait on the side of the road and hope someone will pass by and offer them a days work. People who do not work under a gangmaster who organises them regular work are often waiting for hours, without luck. We met some people who only find work about 5 days a month. Some of the people, like on this picture wait all day long until the evening. There is nothing else to do, than to look for work.
With more and more people arriving, competition for the badly paid orange harvesting becomes intense. Desperate, people are willing to work for less and less money.
The living conditions of the African migrant workers are horrendous. During the winter months, when thousands arrive in the hope to find work, slum cities develop. The conditions in the squalid camps are similar to those in war zones one of the rare doctors who visit the slums tells us. In many of the makeshift camps there is no running water or electricity. Some of the camps are controlled by the mafia, and people are forced to pay for services they often never receive.
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The winters in Rosarno are cold and rainy. Only the ones who arrive early enough get a space in a tent or in a container. Spaces fill up quickly, and in order to get a bed, people need to arrive weeks before jobs are available.
The ones that arrive too late to receive a bed in a container or tent city, need to find another place to stay. With the low wages many people are not able to rent a room in the city and all over the outskirts of Rosarno makeshift camps develop. They have no electricity or running water.
During the winter months it rains most days. Coming home from a days work in the plantations, or standing by the side of the road hoping for a job, people have trouble to dry their clothes.
Many people only find work a few days every month, even during the busy winter months. Some people share their meagre wages to buy food communally. Others survive with handouts from the church.
On days when no work is found, people have no choice but to sit around and kill time. On rainy days it is impossible to dry the clothes completely. Medical care is nearly non-existant.
Rosarno is sporadically in the media during the winter months when the orange harvest takes place. However, many migrant workers stay all year round in Rosarno and during the long, hot summer months not much work is available. Quite a few people have no other choice than to stay because they have not enough money to travel elsewhere in Italy to find seasonal work.
Finding enough to eat becomes the main occupation of those who stay behind. The blue tents, erected by the city council are too hot to even sleep in during the night. During the day, temperatures in these tents can go up to 50 degrees celsius.
A young man from Nigeria, who has been in Rosarno for a couple of years tells us that he wants to go home to his family. The situation at home would never become as worse as it is in Southern Italy. With no papers and no money, however, even going home becomes impossible. Even if he could go home, he would be too ashamed to tell his family that he has no money saved up after all these years. They would never believe me what I lived through in Europe he tells us.
This makeshift camp on the outskirts of Rosarno lies between a motorway and an industrial area. There is no running water or electricity. The Sudanese and Chadians who live here all have refugee status. In theory, refugees in Italy are entitled to social and health care. But in practice, missing state structures and funds mean that even refugees with residence status are dependent to accept any job to survive.
Most African migrants and refugees who enter Europe through Lampedusa end up working on the fruit and vegetable plantations in Southern Italy. Every year around Christmas thousands of migrant workers pick our oranges for a hunger wage in the village of Rosarno, Calabria.
For the rest of the year not much work is available in Rosarno, but some people earned so little that they can not afford the journey to another region to find work for the rest of the year. They stay all year around, barely earning enough to eat during the long hot summer months where very little work is available.