Migrants employed in agriculture in southern Italy continue to work and live in deprivation and unhealthy conditions

Rome - The international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today released the outcomes of its second survey on the conditions of migrants employed as seasonal farm workers in southern Italy. The collected data show dramatic living, working and health conditions. There has been no noticeable improvement since MSF published its first research in 2004. "It is shocking to find people living in a country that is a member of the European Union, under conditions comparable to what MSF teams see in the most deprived parts of Africa," said Antonio Virgilio, Head of Mission for MSF's Italian projects.

"These people are vital to our agriculture. Yet most do not know whether they'll have work tomorrow, earn a pittance, have no labour protection, live in precarious conditions, and contract medical problems without finding their way to a doctor." Every year, many thousands of migrants move around southern Italy to work as pickers of tomatoes, melons, grapes and other fruits. Most of them are young men from Africa and most have no permit to stay in Italy.

Between July and November, 2007, an MSF team interviewed over 600 of these seasonal workers, in conjunction with its medical activities. As a cheap and unprotected labour force, the seasonal workers live in dramatic hygiene and sanitary conditions, and in a state of extreme poverty and social exclusion. They often get sick as a result of unbearable working and living conditions.

Two thirds of the people surveyed live in abandoned buildings. They lack the most basic facilities: 62 percent has no toilet or latrine, 64 percent has no running water, 69 percent has no electricity, and 92 percent live in places that have no heating. "The health problems we find are mainly osteomuscular, dermatological, respiratory and gastro enteric, all related not only to harsh working conditions but also to the hygienic situation in which they live and to their scarce access to primary health care," says doctor Francesca Faraglia, medical coordinator for the MSF projects in Italy.

Though all migrants in Italy are entitled to a health card that grants access to medical care, 71 percent of those interviewed does not have one; they lack information about the card or are afraid to report to authorities. Even those who seek medical care are not guaranteed the right treatment.

For instance, the MSF team met a young Moroccan complaining about abdominal pain, who at an Emergency Department was given pain killers and sent home; the team suspected an acute appendicitis and indeed the man was operated on urgently in another facility. "The situation is really dramatic," concluded Antonio Virgilio. "Local and national authorities, labour departments, trade unions and employers are all aware of it, even more so since our first survey, but nobody is doing anything.

"We need all parties involved to make sure these people can live and work in conditions that do not make them sick. And we need the National Health Service to make sure that their right to health care is more than just a thing on paper, by actively informing the seasonal workers, set up a medical response that is really accessible for them, and providing translation and cultural mediation."MSF survey on health, living and working conditions of immigrants employed as seasonal workers in the fields of Southern Italy July to November 2007.

The survey

  • 643 migrants visited, 600 questionnaires submitted
  • Locations: Campania, Lazio, Puglia, Basilicata, Sicilia, Calabria

The people surveyed

  • 97% men, 84% aged between 20 and 40
  • Origin: Sub
  • Saharan Africa (Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia); northern Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt); Southeast Asia (mainly India); EU (Bulgaria, Rumenia).
  • 72% had no permit for staying in Italy

Period of staying on the site where they were interviewed

  • 67% was on the site for less than 4 months-Working conditions
  • 90% had no employment contract
  • 67% find work less than 4 days per week
  • 49% earn between 26 and 40 euros per day; 36% earn 25 euros or less
  • 38% did not manage to send money home to their families Living conditions
  • 65% live in abandoned buildings; 20% in rented spaces; 10% in tents or in a reception camp; 5% sleep in the open air
  • 21% share their mattress with someone else; 53% have no bed
  • 62% don’t have sanitary facilities
  • 64% don’t have running water
  • 69% have no electricity
  • 92% have no heating
  • 16% report being subjected to abuse and violence

Access to health care

  • Since 1998 Italian law guarantees access to care for all migrants present on the territory, whether legal or illegal
  • 71% don’t have a health card
  • Of those who were in Italy longer than two years, 59% still don’t have a health card
  • 76% say they arrived in Italy in good health
  • 72% were diagnosed with health problems, mostly chronic, when examined by the MSF team

Health conditions

  • an osteomuscular pathology was diagnosed in 22% of the cases. Lumbago and/or lumbo
  • sciatica were the most frequent.
  • a dermatological sickness was diagnosed in 15% of the cases. The most frequent were mycosis (32% of the diagnostic suspects) and dermatitis.
  • a respiratory disease was diagnosed in 13% of the patients examined. The most frequent pathologies are infections of the upper respiratory organs, which include bronchitis (20%), colds (16%), pharyngitis (13A%), tonsillitis (6%), sinusitis (2%), tracheobronchitis (2%).
  • a gastroenteric sickness was diagnosed in 12% of the cases. The most frequent were gastritis (35% of the diagnostic suspects), 89% of which were chronic.