The Italian Church has condemned in the strongest possible terms the deaths of 16 migrant seasonal workers, including migrants and refugees, in two separate road accidents in the south of the country. “Justice must be done”, clamored the Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve and President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, in response to the tragedies, adding that it is “necessary” that institutions “intervene promptly” to remedy the “inhuman conditions” in which seasonal laborers are forced to survive. “Human beings cannot live in hovels like rats”, decried the prelate.
All 16 men from Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa died in near-identical crashes near the city of Foggia, on the Adriatic coast, after the vans in which they were travelling collided with trucks carrying the tomatoes they are paid as little as one euro an hour to pick over a twelve-hour work day. As many as 50,000 seasonal workers live in the Foggia region during picking season, and up to 90% of them work in the fields in illegal conditions. Since their pay is too low to afford an apartment, they survive in ghettoes in metal lean-tos without running water and electricity. A situation which amounts to nothing less than a “great scandal”, according to the Italian bishops’ daily newspaper Avvenire. A sad show, the paper lamented, of “an Italy that exploits, tramples rights and enriches itself from fatigue and suffering”, on the one hand, and of “an exploited Italy, whose fundamental rights to work, health, home and family are flouted”, on the other.
“These are not just road accidents: there’s a system of exploitation behind it”
For its part, the magazine Famiglia Cristiana deplored the “massacre” of the workers in Foggia and announced, for its next issue, a “good practice guide” so that Italian consumers can avoid lining the pockets of the caporali, the mafias that exploit migrant workers. The Bishop of Cerignola-Ascoli Satriano, Luigi Renna, agreed that shedding tears for the dead workers is not enough, but that “it is necessary to change everything from a structural point of view”.
Along these lines, the Bishop of San Severo, Giovanni Checchinato, the director of the diocesan Caritas, Andrea Pupilla, and the diocesan point-man for social justice ministry, Severino Carlucci, called in a joint note for a “serious discussion” on the accidents and for “justice” that “must necessarily involve more dignified living conditions” for migrants, above and beyond their employment.
Checchinato and Pupilla even took to the streets of Foggia this Wednesday in solidarity with the hundreds of farmworkers who walked off the job to protest against the slave-like conditions in which they live and work. “We want to be with migrant workers to denounce what’s happening”, explained Pupilla. “These are not just road accidents: there’s a system of exploitation behind it”, he continued, adding that the workers exploited in the fields are also at the mercy of prostitution and drug-dealing mafias.
“We want to reaffirm our commitment [to dealing with the situation]… and not to resign ourselves to this shame“, added Pupilla, revealing that the dioceses of the Puglian region are already in discussions on how to tackle the problem together. “We are trying to understand how to be present in the area… with orientation activities, services and advocacy in institutions”.