Another loss of life. A Senegalese worker was killed in a terrible fire that burned down the largest migrant encampment in Campobello, west Sicily. Everyone here called him Omar, but no one knew his surname. Numerous fires such as this have taken away lives and destroyed the only living spaces for migrant agricultural workers across Italy.  

An olive worker sent his videos filmed on the night of the fire and the day after.  He wants the world to see what happened.


A young, fit worker of 27 went to pick tomatoes in the fields under the midday sun on the 24th of June. He worked in the 40-plus-degree heat for hours without a break, without shade. He felt unwell as he finished work and got on his bike to go home. But he never made it home. That evening, he was found dead on the roadside by a passing motorcyclist.

As an Italian, if you read this and were told that this worker was named Matteo or Mario, you would be shocked and ask "how could it be possible". There would be newspaper reports and in-depth stories written about Matteo or Mario and how he came to this tragic end. Some of you would go on protests and demand justice for him. Society could erupt in such anger that those in power would have to do something to prevent a revolt.

However, the young worker who lost his life isn't a Matteo or Mario. His name was Camara Fantamadi. He came from Mali and arrived in Italy only two weeks before his death. He died because he was a migrant worker - and in particular, because he was a sub-Saharan African migrant worker.

Around half the workforce in Italian agriculture - close to half a million people - are migrant workers. Workers' exploitation is stratified: sub-Saharan Africans - most of whom have been through the asylum system - are right at the bottom of the hierarchy regarding working conditions. For instance, the off-season pay rate among sub-Saharan African workers is €15-€20 per day, the lowest among all agricultural workers.

They have been positioned as "outcasts" in Italian society. They are casual workers in the fields, consumers in the shops, but nothing else. They are not seen or treated as part of local community and society but are kept away and agrarianized (moved from urban centres to the countryside). The 21st-century segregation of Europe drives them to live in desperate and often dangerous conditions in rural ghettoes. This segregation ensures that they have no protection at work and are the most exploited group in Italian agriculture.

These outcasts have enabled Italy's agriculture to produce most of Europe's fruit and vegetables. The modern history of Italy's agriculture since the 1970s is also the chronicle of injuries and deaths of many migrant workers. Yet these injuries and deaths are never properly investigated, let alone compensated. Migrant workers' deaths have always been treated as collateral damage.

On the evening when Camara Fantamadi's body was found, the news of his death circulated in the social media among Italy's African worker communities. There was immense sadness and anger, but no shock. Because if you are a migrant working in Italy, you are bound to hear of death and injury to your co-workers so often that it is part of your reality. As a segregated people, you know your lives don't matter to society. You could lose your life in the fields where you work, or in the rural encampments where you live, or in the streets where you walk and ride your bicycle. You could lose your life as result of your daily exploitation and the permanent institutional and societal racism in which you are immersed and trapped. Segregation is killing you.

The farm in Tuturano in Brindisi, Puglia, where Camara Fantamadi worked, is no different to other agricultural workplaces in Italy, in terms of appalling conditions and minimal pay. Caporali, i.e. the middlemen or gangmasters, are only the first layer in the chain of exploitation. What has kept the exploitative work regime intact for decades are the bigger structures: agricultural enterprises and corporate interests that operate the stratified exploitation to increase profits, hand in hand with multinational retailers that squeeze profits and keep prices down along the chain, and the political elite and their institutions that have enabled a corrupt reception system and the arrangement where migrants toil in exploitative agriculture, which the elite are only too happy to continue with. While vilified as society's problem in the discourse of the "migrant crisis" of the past decade, migrant workers bear the brunt of Italy's worst working conditions and their devastating consequences.

Following Fantamadi's death, the authorities in the Puglia region announced that outdoor farm work during the hottest hours of the day, between 12.30pm and 4pm, will be banned. But will it? Italy has no shortage of labour laws and regulations, but it is implementation of these laws that is the problem. Many people in the African communities across Italy have expressed doubt that such a ban would be realised in this wildly unregulated sector - and agriculture in southern Italy in particular.

Italy's migrant workers don't need more tokenistic gestures or gap-filling solutions. Until institutions and society change their approach fundamentally and stop treating migrants as outcasts, any talk of change will only be lip service - and more deaths of migrant workers will surely continue.


Camara Fantamadi, a 27-year-old worker from Mali, died after picking tomatoes under the scorching sun. He felt dizzy after finishing his four-hour shift, which began at midday, at the farm in Tuturano in Brindisi province. He collapsed and died as he cycled home

Outdoor farm work during the hottest hours of the day, between 12.30pm and 4pm, has been banned in the region of Puglia in southern Italy following Camara Fantamadi's death.  


Napier barracks fire in Kent revealed barbaric conditions in which the British government is holding hundreds of asylum seekers


Ciao Ousmane is out now...

With a Foreword from Liz Fekete


Seven people have died trying to cross the Channel this year.


"Waves of impunity: Malta's human rights violations Europe's responsibilities in the Central Mediterranean", a report by Amnesty International

"Malta is stooping to ever more despicable and illegal tactics to shirk their responsibilities to people in need. Shamefully, the EU and Italy have normalized cooperation with Libya on border control, but sending people back to danger in Libya is anything but normal," said Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International.  "EU member states must stop assisting in the return of people to a country where they face unspeakable horrors." 

From the beginning of January to 27 August 2020, 7,256 people were "pulled back" to Libya by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard, which was often alerted of the presence of boats at sea by airplanes engaged in Frontex and other EU operations.


Four shipwrecks in one week off Libya


Aboubakar Soumahoro, trade unionist, went on a hunger strike and took a proposal to Conte. He said: "We demand that the government listen to us and the cry of pain from us invisible and excluded workers. I'll stay here until the government gives us clear answers on three points: (1) Agricultural chain reform; (2) Launch of a National Labour Emergency Plan; (3) Change of migration policies.


This morning, Mohamed Ben Ali, 37-year-old laborer, died in a fire in Borgo Mezzanone, an encampment in rural Foggia, Italy. Four had died in the past year and a half. How many more have to die before white supremacy can even be recognised for what it is?


African workers across Italy showing the power of self-organisation in the Black Lives Matter movement worldwide


                                         Migrant agricultural workers on one-day strike 

                                                                                                 Photo: Aboubakar Soumahoro


M5S backed down and an agreement was finally reached between parties and will be included in the relaunched decree. The number of regularised workers is estimated to be around 200,000, according to interior minister. Terms of regularisation/Main points here


The terms of agreement on regularisation continued to be debated today, due to opposition from M5S. Main points of the draft


More workers reported from Foggia that they have already been sent out by their gangmasters (caporali) to work in the fields, without contract, like during each harvest. Meanwhile, the government is divided on the issue of regularisation. Due to opposition from the M5S, the duration of the temporary residence permit for regularised workers could end up being only three months. 

06-05-2020 Hsiao-Hung Pai reports

From outside the train window, after passing thousands and thousands of white plastic-covered polytunnels - the greenhouses in which tomatoes, aubergines and other vegetables and fruits are grown, Vittoria comes into view. Its train station used to be a busy place every spring. Workers would wait for local pickups in the open square outside, named after Vittoria Nenni, an Italian anti-fascist who died in the concentration camp in Auschwitz. This was where rows of long-distance coaches parked up. From 2007 when Romania joined the EU, up until the Covid-19 lockdown this March, these coaches have travelled between Sicily and the impoverished regions of Romania, bringing the much-needed agricultural workers upon whom the province of Ragusa, Sicily, depends.

Photo: Greenhouses, province of Ragusa, Sicily/by Hsiao-Hung Pai

The above photos: Greenhouse, province of Ragusa; Vittoria station/by Hsiao-Hung

The above & photo on the right: Workers' clothes, greenhouses, province of Ragusa; Hsiao-Hung talking with farmers/ by Dave Barkway

Photo: Greenhouse, province of Ragusa/ by Hsiao-Hung

A few kilometres outside Vittoria, farmers hired groups of Romanians, whom they called "best workers", to pick tomatoes in greenhouses the size as football pitches in the spring. The large tomatoes earn a farmer €1 to €2 per kilo. In the greenhouses for aubergines - Each kilo of these would earn €2; each crate €20. As all the farmers would say, the cost of greenhouse production had increased while competition had driven prices down. What they omitted to say was that this all had led to further squeezing of workers' wages. In 2019, some of the Romanian workers had decided to join their families working in Britain. Most of them had gone by bus from Vittoria, all the way to Coventry to work in the chicken-processing factories, for relatively higher wages.

Normally, farmers here also hire Sub-Saharan African workers, for a lower rate than the Romanians: €25 a day, whether they have a residence permit or not. Most of them are asylum seekers from the reception shelters. During the lockdown, however, many African workers are unable to work due to the strict control of movement. Not far from Ragusa, there are currently around 300 African workers stuck in the appalling living conditions inside the tent city of Cassibile - they cannot go to the fields or greenhouses due to the movement control and their lack of documents.

This province has been one of the main destinations for Romanians, the largest group of agricultural workers in Italy, numbering around 113,000. By late 2019, there were around 30,000 Romanians living in Vittoria - including those without residence permits - half of this town's entire population.

Many Romanian workers come from Iași, the second largest city in north-eastern Romania near the border to Moldova. It's a university town with a population of 500,000, described by most Romanians as "having nothing going for it". With the economic decline, the average working-class monthly income was under €250.

Some Romanians came for the harvest season, but many others ended up staying and settled in Vittoria, Ragusa and the surrounding towns. Most of them work in the vegetable and fruits greenhouses, without contract, for an average of €30 a day. They are the workers of the EU periphery with no rights and no labour protection. For farmers here, employing Romanians also poses less risk of breaking the law by hiring undocumented migrants from outside the EU. They are employed en masse, and when they settle here, they become a reliable army of workers ready to tolerate the sweltering heat and long hours' backbreaking work in the greenhouses for little reward.

During the lockdown, most farms in the province have tried to survive the labour shortage. Farms that grow only flowers, however, have been badly affected, as non-food retail has been closed during this period of time.

Although travel restrictions across Europe mean that Romanian and Eastern European workers are no longer arriving to work in the fields in Italy during the lockdown, many farmers in this province are able to get harvest work done by using their "house workers", i.e., Romanian and other migrant workers who live nearby and upon whom they've depended for years.

Visiting greenhouses and talking with farmers, province of Ragusa, Sicily/ by Hsiao-Hung

The farming communities across the country say they have been hit hard during this pandemic. Not only aren't Romanian and Eastern European workers arriving to harvest the crops, but the internal lockdown and restricted movement between regions in Italy also means that African workers - the most exploited workers in Italy - can't always access farm work.

Photo: Asparagus harvest, province of Foggia/by Alsane

The minister of agriculture Teresa Bellanova, who left the PD to join former prime minister Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva party, has called for regularisation of undocumented workers "in order to get the economy moving again". She asked that these workers in agriculture and the care sector be regularised immediately with temporary residence permits of six months renewable for another six months.

Under Bellanova's request under Cura Italia bis decree, tens of thousands of migrants could be regularised. "75% of the workers [to be regularised] are migrants, mainly Africans," she said. "Either we get on with the harvest or the products will rot in the fields. Nobody is stopping Italians to offer themselves as pickers, but the truth is that they don't want to do it." 

The Italian government recently established that migrants' expiring residence permits are extended until the 15th of June, although it is clear that this wouldn't be sufficient to fill the labour shortages. Meanwhile, farmers' organisations, just as the rest of Europe, have asked for the establishment of "green corridors" to allow seasonal workers from Eastern Europe to be sent to work in Italy. 

According to the ministry of agriculture, the Covid-19 crisis has created a shortage of between 250,000 and 270,000 workers in Italy. As the harvests of asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, tomatoes and melons are underway, something has to be done urgently, said Coldiretti (National Confederation of Agricultural Producers). Otherwise, 40% of agricultural products might go to waste. This will obviously impact hugely on Italy, being Europe's third largest agricultural sector in terms of overall value, worth £56.6 billion in 2019. 

In this context, the regularisation of migrant workers emerged as a national debate once again. Many civil groups, NGOs and trade unions argue for regularising the country's undocumented migrants. Unions said that regularisation of migrant workers in the Sicilian countryside is now "an unavoidable necessity"

Photo: Asparagus harvest, province of Foggia/by Alsane

It is estimated that there are over 600,000 undocumented migrants in Italy. Apart from those working in agriculture, tens of thousands among the one million migrant domestic workers are also irregular, including over 165,000 domestic and care workers from the Philippines, most of whom are working without contracts. Their informal immigration status means that many of them were easily dismissed by their employers at the beginning of the pandemic outbreak. 

Amnesty programmes have always been introduced on gap-filling, economic grounds, and in Italy, they have cut across the political spectrum. The largest amnesty was under the centre-right government in 2002 when nearly 700,000 migrants were regularised just after its Bossi-Fini law was enacted. In 2008, Roberto Maroni, the interior minister of the hard-right Northern League (the predecessor of the League today), proposed a law penalising illegal immigration as a criminal offence. Following the proposal, a public debate about "saving" the "useful" migrant care workers from this new law resulted in a carers rescue decree, a government ordinance which led to around 300,000 migrant care workers being regularised in 2009.

The same gap-filling approach has been behind the government plan for regularisation. The earlier result was the opportunistic draft proposal on regularisation, which only applies to migrant workers in agricultural, livestock, fishing and aquaculture sectors. Migrant workers, i.e., the essential workers, in domestic and care work as well as the logistics sector were all excluded. Currently, the draft decree also stipulates that those workers whose applications are accepted will obtain a temporary resident permit that lasts only until the end of 2020, for accessing work. Campaigners are asking, "Why limit the residence permit to one year, only for the period of the coronavirus crisis?" 

Behind the call for regularisation among many civil society groups is the same mindset which evaluates a migrant's place in society based on their economic input and contribution. It treats migrant workers and their labour as a commodity to be exchanged and bargained for. Market value should not be the basis for demanding a regularisation. During this pandemic, workers' irregular status means that they couldn't access support programmes like those provided by municipalities, or even basic health care services. It also means that they couldn't work in the fields without extreme exploitation. 

The call for regularisation should be based on migrant workers' interests and need for basic rights - such as rights to housing and to be free from racial discrimination, exclusion and exploitation. Ultimately, regularisation is insufficient in addressing the workers' interests and needs. The ills go so much deeper - into the heart of society and institutions that have long been penetrated by racism and racial inequality. A quick-fix decree or one-off amnesty will not protect migrant workers from the impact of this crisis nor will it guarantee protection in the long term.