The Story of Ghali, a Farmhand in the Foggia Area | INTERSOS

Labor Day is approaching. With this, which is the experience of many, we call attention to the exploitation of thousands of agricultural laborers



A span of 6,000 kilometers separates Ghana and Italy, on sea and on land. Ghali traveled all those kilometers: in part by walking, others in shared transportation, crowded rides in cars already full of people who, like him, were fleeing from instability and lack of work prospects. Towards the end of the journey, then, the last stretch is crossing the Mediterranean Sea. From Libya to Sicily, on boats or rafts that often do not arrive to their destination.


Ghali is 22 years old. He arrived in Italy in 2016. He says that his journey was a long period of wandering and suffering, which he undertook following the death of his father. He decided to travel to Europe to further his studies. He has already been enrolled in mechanical engineering courses during the autumn and winter in the Lazio city of Cassino. With the arrival of spring, he went to find housing in Palmori (in the province of Foggia), a small town surrounded by hectares and hectares of agricultural fields. Here, he goes every day to work as a laborer and pay for his studies for the remaining part of the year. He, like hundreds of others, lives in abandoned farmhouses, informal settlements that over the years have taken the form of “ghettos” hidden from the eyes of the surrounding community, distanced from city activities and from any type of social response, starting from health care.


INTERSOS and the intervention in Capitanata


Palmori is part of an area of ​​great concentration of laborers in Italy’s Puglia region, between the provinces of Foggia, Lucera and San Severo. This area spanning 60 kilometers is where INTERSOS workers move 6 days a week, with two mobile medical units and a car, among the various informal settlements in the Capitanata area. Thousands of migrants reach this part of Italy from May to September.  2,050 of them are concentrated only in the two largest settlements in the area: the former Borgo Mezzanone airport runway and the Gran Ghetto.


“1000 euros a month, more or less, I can raise 1000 euros a month,” says Ghali with a golden yellow expanse of sunburned wheat behind him.  “1000 euros yes, but only if I work every day and for more than eight hours. I wake up before dawn and I start work, and I continue like this, until late in the evening. I sleep for only a few hours because I need to work as much time as possible.”


In the informal settlements of Capitanata where INTERSOS has been working since 2018, a strong connection emerges between the state of health and the dynamics of oppression and exploitation that people have to face. Health, or the absence of it, constitutes a central pivot to which precariousness or labor exploitation, absence of documents, unworthy housing conditions, the lack of a support network and, consequently, a widespread feeling of not being able change their living conditions.


The failure of Regularisation


“I am part of that great mass of people, laborers, who believed in the idea of ​​regularization. I believed and hoped for it but from what I see very few have been able to access it“, Ghali comments on what in the summer of last year was supposed to represent a possibility of redemption and emergence from illegal work for thousands of people. Regularisation, art. 103 of the Decree Law 19 May 2020, n. 34, had as its objective the contractualization of individuals, who have been victims of a system of blackmail and labor exploitation in the fields. To date, we can say that the attempt has not been successful.


The number of people who have actually been able to access the application and start the regularization process is very low.  200,000 applications have been submitted, of which only 5% were successful as reported by the ERO STRANIERO campaign. The bureaucratic process is cumbersome and difficult, and the many accumulated delays make general outlook extremely worrying and uncertain for all those who have started the procedure since the summer of 2020.


“My question is: which employer intends to regularize and invest in a laborer like me? Here we are just arms. Nobody would give money to regularize us, it is more comfortable and easier to keep us out, invisible, excluded and paid in black.” Ghali speaks of Regularization as a shattered dream: “Many of us would like to be regularized, have a contract, health care, rights. But it is all so complex that it becomes inaccessible. The employer will never do anything that does not suit him and earn more with us by keeping us in the shadows”.


May 1st is International Workers Day. Ghali will spend it in Palmori as a farmhand: “I’ll stay here until September, then I’ll go back to school. From May to September, I’m farmhand, then I’ll be a student again. I would like to study more, I would like to study law, become a lawyer and represent defenseless people who often have no rights and are ignored. Like us here, people without rights who sow and harvest vegetables and fruit for those who have their rights and manage to enforce them. Nobody forced me to do what I do, it is my choice; but it’s a choice determined by my living conditions, by the nothing that surrounds me, by the desire to build a future here, 6,000 kilometers from my home country”.

Flavia Melillo
Flavia Melillo