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Illegal Migrants in Italian Poverty Trap
September 30, 2009
After crossing half of Africa and surviving a perilous journey across the Mediterranean in search of a better life, Boubacar Bailo is now contemplating suicide. The young African is one of a growing army of illegal immigrants hired to harvest tomatoes in the Puglia region of southern Italy. Home is a squalid makeshift slum known as 'the Ghetto'. [Boubacar Bailo, African Immigrant]: "Here is where I sleep, ten people sleep here." This is the harsh reality many illegal immigrants face in Italy. In their quest to escape persecution, poverty and conflict these men sprung a new economic trap - and one from which most will not escape. [Burkina Faso Immigrant]: "We just didn't know Italy was like this, we always thought it was a country I would find a job and do everything like eating and a lot of nice things, but now we've seen that it's not like that, but I can't go back." Every year thousands of immigrants flock to the plantations of southern Italy to eke out a living as seasonal workers, picking anything from grapes to olives, tomatoes and oranges. Paid a fraction of what Italian laborers would earn, cheap migrant labor plays an important role in the Italian economy. But rights campaigners and charities say the exploitation of illegal workers, toiling from dawn 'till dusk, is akin to slavery. Dr Alvise Benelli of the medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), describes conditions in the 'ghetto' as intolerable. Alvise Benelli, Doctors Without Borders]: "They sleep on the ground on mattresses they have picked up on the streets, most of them are rotten and infested with insects." To eat, the migrants club together to buy a sheep or goat so they can slaughter it themselves and feed more people. In a week or so, these men will head south to the Calabria region for the orange harvest. They dreamt of El Dorado only to end up in hell.