Italy's fields of misery

"Here life is hard: I get up at 4:00 every morning and I go to the crossroads waiting for someone to offer me a job for the day. Unfortunately, my situation at the moment is as precarious as it was in Africa."

Among the approximately 700 seasonal workers interviewed for the survey, most were men between the ages of 20 and 45. Although they should have been a healthy population, 30 percent of the workers had become ill during their first six months in Italy.

After 19 months in the country, 93 percent of the people surveyed needed to see a doctor. Almost all of the immigrants who sought a medical check-up by MSF were suffering from one or more health problems. The most common were infectious diseases, skin problems, intestinal parasites, mouth or throat infections and respiratory infections (including tuberculosis). The most severe illnesses were found among those immigrants who had lived in Italy the longest - 18 to 24 months.

Far from finding the easy life

In March 2002, I left my house and saw my family in Sierra Leone for the last time. I started a long trip to reach North Africa and from there embarked for Europe. Once I found a boat, we navigated for at least six days. The crossing wasn't easy. We got lost and were running out of water and food. Finally, we arrived in Italy. I have no idea where I was.

I just know that after 48 hours in a first-aid post they took us to a reception center in Croton. I stayed there many weeks. When they let me go, I took a train and arrived here where I found a place to sleep together with other Africans. This house is not very big and there are 102 of us sleeping here.

Here life is hard: I get up at 4:00 every morning and I go to the crossroads waiting for someone to offer me a job for the day. Unfortunately, my situation at the moment is as precarious as it was in Africa. The environment around us is very poor and needy, the government does nothing to help us. I asked for asylum from the Italian government. I have a residency permit but I can't work according to the law.

In Africa, people think that in Europe everything is easier. Unfortunately here in Italy, I haven't found the protection I was hoping for as a refugee. The only thing I can do to survive is work as a fruit picker. It's hard work and badly paid and precarious: today you work, tomorrow you don't know. Besides I have to live in that house and pay rent.

In my room, there are 10 of us. Three of us share a mattress and the last person to arrive sleeps on the ground. What am I expecting from the future? At this moment everything depends on my asylum-seeker status, but I would like to go to school to learn Italian, maybe find a job, change house, make friends. I would just like some normality."

- Story of A, an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone, whose story is included in the MSF report "The Fruits of Hypocrisy"