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14 Jul 2021

Marion MacGregor, InfoMigrants

Italy: Indian workers in agriculture endure appalling conditions, despite govt. efforts to tackle the problem

"Secret slaves: Indian farm workers in Italy", 14 July 2021

Tens of thousands of Indians, mainly Sikhs from the Punjab region, live and work in Italy’s Pontine Marshes. Most live like slaves, in spite of ongoing efforts to bring attention to the problem.

Balbir Singh worked on a farm in the Pontine Marshes around Latina, south of Rome. For six long years he suffered in slave-like conditions, tending cattle...

...Singh's experience of mistreatment and exploitation is shared by many other migrant farm laborers in the Agro Pontino and elsewhere in Italy.

The UN's special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery estimated in 2018 that more than 400,000 agricultural workers in Italy risk being exploited and almost 100,000 likely face "inhumane conditions," AFP reports...

...The Agro Pontino, a center of greenhouse farming, flower cultivation and buffalo mozzarella production, has attracted migrant laborers since the mid-1980s. Today, between 25,000 and 30,000 Indians live and work in the region, according to Marco Omizzolo, the well-known activist who helped to free Singh...

...Sometimes, the reality for migrant workers is even more grim. There is plenty of evidence that the use of opioids – painkilling drugs – is widespread among the Indian community.

A recent police operation in the town of Sabaudia led to the arrest of a doctor who allegedly prescribed more than 1,500 boxes of Depalgos, a powerful painkiller containing Oxycodone and given to cancer patients, to 222 Indian farm workers...

...The problem of exploitation of farm workers is well known by Italy’s politicians. Thanks to a large protest movement started by Sagnet, Parliament finally made caporalato a criminal offence in 2016. It was under this law that Singh's employer was prosecuted.

But unions and activists say there are still too few checks and labor inspectors to enforce the law properly...

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