In Italy, foreign seasonal workers are increasingly excluded from society and the health system. In addition to the problems of labor exploitation and housing precariousness there is also COVID-19
picture © Giulio Piscitelli
The summer season is approaching and the informal settlements in the countryside are back overcrowded with the new arrivals of the season. August is the tomato harvesting period and every year, thousands of seasonal agricultural workers flock to the countryside around Foggia, the so-called Capitanata. in Borgo Mezzanone alone, one of the largest settlements in the area, there are about 3,000 workers forced to live in precarious hygienic conditions. Compared to last year, when the so-called “moratorium” was launched, nothing has changed.
Regularisation, a missed opportunity
Most of the foreign agricultural workers who live in the ghettos in Foggiano area have been in Italy for many years but they are still irregular. Last summer, the provision for the regularisation of foreigners in Italy turned out to be a missed opportunity: due to the too many limits set by the provision itself, very few people were able to apply for regularisation compared to the real number of people who should have accessed it. The laborers continue to work illegally, without contracts and without protection, sometimes with some sort of contract but not regular.
COVID-19 is just one of many other existing problems
The COVID-19 pandemic, in this context, is just one of many other existing problems. As everywhere in the Country, even in the ghettos in Foggiano many people have been tested positive for COVID-19 and in Borgo Mezzanone, since March, they have the possibility, if they have no symptoms, to stay in isolation in the containers placed in the area of the former CARA. But the situation for these people is much more difficult to deal with than for others: in these living contexts it is almost impossible to implement the prevention rules, to keep social distancing, always wash your hands, have protective equipment. In the event of isolation, then, people are forced not to work and, without a contract, they are not protected at all.
Furthermore, these people face structural dynamics of violence and exploitation on a daily basis that affect their physical and mental health. In this context, COVID-19 is a further factor of exclusion and isolation that increases the invisibility of needs and amplifies inequalities both on a social and health level.
The regularisation measure had the objective of dealing with the health emergency: regularising people who live in invisibility to facilitate their access to the National Health Service. In addition to not having taken into account the complexity of the phenomenon of labor exploitation, however, the provision, almost a year after its entry into force, is still completely stranded. From the monitoring work carried out by the “ERO STRANIERO” campaign, it emerged that as of February 16th 2021, six months after the closing of the window for emergence, only 5% of the 207,000 applications submitted reached the final stage of the procedure. An unacceptable stalemate, especially in the context of the ongoing health emergency.
On the frontline to help the most marginalised people
We have been working in the Capitanata ghettos since 2018 with a social and health project carried out through mobile clinics. With the onset of the epidemic, all activities have been strengthened and recalibrated, in coordination with the health authorities in the area, on the prevention and management of positive COVID-19 cases. Since February 2020, our team has been carrying out COVID-19 risk assessment visits, raising awareness activities on prevention measures and distributions of hygiene kits. All activities were accompanied by constant dialogue with local institutions, a dialogue that allowed INTERSOS, already in the first months of the emergency, to obtain from the Puglia Region the installation of cisterns that guaranteed access to drinking water to all the settlements in the area.
INTERSOS’s intervention to combat COVID-19 in favor of the most marginalised population groups is collected in the “Unequal Pandemic“ report.