Rosarno, eight years after the revolt: where liveing and working are still shamefully inhuman

Eight years after the revolt of Rosarno, little or nothing has changed for the almost 3,000 migrant workers who this year again poured into the Piana di Gioia Tauro for the citrus season. According to the data collected from the mobile clinic of Doctors for Human Rights (Medu), active for the sixth consecutive year in the area, up to 80% of those workers are illegal, a figure even higher than the previous year.

Although nine out of ten migrants have a regular residence permit, they find themselves doing piece or day work, without a contract or pay slip, with much lower pay than union scale. Living conditions remain dramatically barbaric, despite the recent opening of yet another tent city, only able to accommodate 500 people. Medu has called for the adoption of immediate measures to implement the commitments made by the institutions with the signing of the Protocol of February 2016, starting from the plan for social-housing inclusion.

Rosarno, 9 January 2018 – Starting in the month of December, for the sixth consecutive year, doctors and operators of Medical Rights (Medu) are present with a mobile clinic in the territory of Piana di Gioia Tauro to provide health care, socio-legal guidance and labor rights to foreign laborers in the area. As in previous years, degradation, shacks, plastic and waste that force people into experiencing dramatic living conditions. The old tent city of San Ferdinando, in the industrial zone is now one of the largest ghettos in Italy. Once again this year, 2,000 people have been placed in crowded and icy tents and shacks. The adjacent shed that was to be part of the new reception structure set up last August but the managing bodies wanted to close it because of the difficulties in monitoring the place, and risk, leaving the 250 people who slept there on the street. In the abandoned factory close by, 300 workers live in conditions of extreme discomfort, beds and mattresses piled next to each other on the ground. Anyone who does not find a place here lives in one of dozens of abandoned farmhouses in the Piana countryside that shelter seasonal workers for a few dozen euro a day. Whatever toilets exist are practically not working. There is no electricity and water comes from foul-smelling bathrooms or a nearby fountain. While it is non-drinking water, some drink it anyway. To substitute electricity, people use gas cylinders and gasoline generators to heat water and prepare meals. The nauseating smell of plastic and burned waste is all around. The streets of Piana are a swarm of bicycles transporting tired young people back home after work, as well as containers of water, gas cylinders and sacks of rice. The bicycles weave between huge holes in the asphalt, puddles as large as craters and mud. These settlements are united by the extreme degradation, unbreathable air, insecurity, extremely precarious nature of work and housing and disastrous sanitary conditions. For years, Medu has strongly denounced this shameful and unacceptable situation, made even more dramatic and inhumane by working conditions characterized by exploitation and illegal practices.

During the first month of activity, Medu doctors and operators visited, directed and educated 99 people, young men with an average age of 29 from Western sub-Saharan Africa, in particular from Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana. Mauritania, Nigeria and Togo, who have been in Italy for less than three years (80%). 90% are legally residents (in most cases with a residence permit for humanitarian reasons, 47% – or recurrent against the negative outcome of their asylum application – 37%) while 10% do not have a valid residence permit (in half of the cases because they did not have access to the asylum procedure). Of these, 8% currently do not have jobs while 91% are employed in the collection mainly of mandarins and to a lesser extent of oranges. A particularly alarming fact is related to illegal employment: 80% of the people visited do not have a work contract and in the remaining 20% of cases, even if there is a formal contract, they are exploited, in terms of pay, payment of contributions for the days worked and working time. In recent years, thanks to increased controls, the number of contracts seems to have increased slightly – although in most cases it was still “gray work.” However, the initial data collected this year shows a bleak return to the past, as evidenced by the picture of widespread contractual irregularity. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the institutions are incapable of dealing with the situation credibly and effectively in a territory permeated by an entrenched and pervasive lawlessness and crime is confirmed. Half of the workers are paid by box (1 euro for mandarins, 0.50 cents for oranges), the remaining half are paid per day with a pay ranging from 25 to 30 euro (much lower than 42-45 euro set by provincial and national labor contracts) for a work commitment of 7-8 and sometimes 10 hours a day. They go to work mostly by bike (over 63%), while a quarter of them pay between 2.5-3.5 euros up to 5 euros for transport. If the word taskmaster rarely emerges from the stories heard, the illicit practices linked to the recruitment, transport and payment of workers bear witness to a situation of widespread illegality and exploitation. Few people know what a pay slip is (28%) and those few do not know if they will receive one. 80% of the people met do not know they can access agricultural unemployment insurance and only one person has actually received it. From a medical and health point of view, housing and work conditions significantly affect the physical and mental health of seasonal workers. The diseases of the digestive system (21%) and the respiratory system (17%) – directly attributable to the state of poverty and social and housing precariousness – are predominant, as are those of the osteomioarticular apparatus (22%), particularly related to work. Some of the people encountered present clear signs of torture and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological distress, most likely related to the traumatic events experienced in their countries of origin and along the migratory routes, particularly in Libya.

“I have political asylum but I ended up here, living in these conditions … how do you live like this? I asked for a place in the new tent city, but they tell me it’s all full. I would like to rent a flat, I can pay for it, but how do you do it? Nobody rents you a flat here…” (M., Nigeria)

In August last year, a few hundred meters away from the old tent city a new temporary hospitality structure was inaugurated, made of blue and white tents of the Ministry of the Interior and surrounded by chain fences and videos cameras, while a sophisticated surveillance system controls people going and coming. But there are only a few places available, less than 500, and the tents were filled well before the citrus season started and the seasonal workers poured into the Piana. Even this housing situation has proved inadequate to ensure minimum living conditions during the winter months characterized by rains and particularly harsh temperatures at night. In any case, the agreement signed by the managing body with the municipality of San Ferdinando only concerns the logistical management of the area (construction and maintenance) and does not include the provision of other, equally essential, services, such as legal support and orientation, social and psychological support, cultural mediation and orientation on workers’ rights.

Given the very serious housing and sanitation situation of the tent city of San Ferdinando and the surrounding settlements that are growing worse this year, Medu welcomes the intention to adopt bridge solutions to ensure greater livability, dignity and safety for migrant workers. And on the other hand, in the absence of more lasting and sustainable solutions, the new structure alone is only another partial and ineffective emergency solution. The commitment made in February 2016 by the main institutions – Prefecture of Reggio Calabria, Calabria Region, Province of Reggio Calabria, Municipalities of Rosarno and San Ferdinando – with the signing of the Operational Protocol which envisaged adoption of concrete measures and housing and structural policies aimed at a widespread integration and reception of migrants remains unfulfilled. In this regard, Medu has once again reiterated the need to tackle the issue of agriculture worker exploitation in an organic and programmatic way, including through the adoption of active policies aimed at encouraging the integration of local workers into the local social-housing well as seasonal workers who come to the area during the citrus season and foreigners who remain throughout the year. It is clear that the partial, temporary and unnecessarily expensive reception measures taken so far are completely unsuccessful because they leave African laborers far from the inhabited center and favor physical and social isolation and the persistence of a situation of serious marginalization. Instead, we need to launch a structural housing plan as soon as possible that provides concrete and sustainable housing solutions in the Municipalities of the area, to restore dignity to workers but also to give life to more and more depopulated residential areas, enhancing the hundreds of disused buildings present.

In order to “steer this situation towards effective and efficient policies”, on August 21 an Extraordinary Commissioner for the San Ferdinando area appointed by the Ministry of the Interior took office. Medu hopes that this action will promote compliance with the commitments made with the Protocol and finally make to possible to decisively face the problems of foreign workers and the Piana territory.

Doctors for Human Rights therefore asks that:

Additional temporary reception facilities be set up immediately, with sufficient capacity to accommodate all workers, and strategically located on the territory and able to guarantee decent living conditions (including the possibility of heated tents) and social and legal assistance and guidance services. Among other things, this will allow identification of the most vulnerable and an exit from irregular positions of part of the present population;

The plan for the social-housing inclusion foreseen by the protocol signed almost two years ago and totally disregarded finally be implemented. To this end, Medu has therefore called on the institutions to define certain timing, clear methods and adequate funding;

The use of key tools to combat illegal labor (control of companies employing seasonal workers, introduction of adequacy indicators, definition of ways of transparent meeting between labor supply and demand) be intensified;

Constructive policies be adopted to address the problems related to the distortions in the production and distribution chain that stifle the producers and perpetuate the exploitation and vulnerability conditions of the employees employed.

At the national level and on the basis of the dramatic situation of the patients encountered, MEDU has also called for an immediate commitment to identify adequate and indifferent solutions so that:

– The guarantee of accessing the procedure for requesting international protection to all persons arriving on the national territory, regardless of the country of origin;

– The most vulnerable people, including survivors of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, be guaranteed adequate housing support and job placement as well as medical and psychological, so that they are not forced to live in totally inadequate and precarious conditions such as those of the ghettos seasonal workers.


In 2014 Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU)  started the Terragiusta project, Campaign against the exploitation of migrant workers in agriculture. The partners of the two-year period 2016-18 are: Arci “Iqbal Masih” of Venosa, Flai-Cgil of Gioia Tauro, Municipality of Rosarno, Terra! Onlus, Zalab, Amisnet / Echis, OIS – International Observatory for Health Onlus

Project realized with the support of: Foundation with the South; Charlemagne Foundation; Open Society Foundations.