Felandina eviction

Two days ago, the mayor of Bernalda, Domenico Tataranno, officially announced the imminent eviction of the migrant ocupation La Felandina, located in the industrial zone of Metaponto. The building has been occupied since a year by approximately 600 migrant workers, a majority of which are in possession of regular residence papers, according to official police sources. The migrants offer their labour to agricultural enterprises in the area. Since a few years the Basilicata and Calabria coastline has effectively become Southern Italy’s grocery garden: from the famous strawberries harvested in early Spring to the fruit and vegetables that are cultivated here over the Summer and Autumn, production continues throughout the year. Farmers sell their produce under often unfavourable contracts to the big distribution networks through intermediaries located in Puglia and Campania.

Speaking at a public meeting, the mayor said he took his decision after a long series of meetings with the Prefecture, Town Hall, and competent authorities – notwithstanding the acknowledgement, by the territiorial prefecture, that migrant workers who come to the area have difficulty finding alternative forms of accommodation. “It will be up to the State, through the security forces, to implement the eviction in practice. We will try, with the collaboration of those poor people, to find the best solution from a logistic point of view,” Tataranno concluded.

In March this year, the head of Basilicata’s Migrant Policy Coordination, Pietro Simonetti officially promised a temporary reception facility for 150 seasonal migrant workers, which so far has not been concretely defined. In the meantime, therefore, migrant workers have no other alternative other than occupying a new site.

Migrant tent camps in Metaponto, March 2018

It is not the first time it comes to such tensions in the area of Metaponto. Already in 2018, the mayor of Bernalda ordered the clearance of various tent camps located under the town’s bridges and in the many abandoned warehouses in the area. Like much of Basilicata, the area continues to be affected by a progressive abandonment, driven by a lack of institutional capacities and employment opportunities. Specifically, the 2018 eviction followed an open letter in which Metaponto’s residents denounced the, in their view, “disproportionate” presence of immigrant citizens who come to the area to work. Declaring a state of emergency, they asked the mayor to restore law and order in the area. 

The same year, two agricultural entrepreneurs and one gangmaster based in Metaponto had been officially indighted for illicit labour recruitment, which has become an offence under the new anti-racket legislation. Altogether, these events reveal once more the paradox of the current legislative context, which regards migrant labour intermediation as a criminal offense, but at the same time refuses to address its root causes beyond a mere logistical perspective. 

La Felandina (c) OMB

Moukef

Reading my regular reports on Italian tomato plantations, a colleague who attended a seminar on migration & agriculture in Agadir recently (pdf here) alerted me to an accident involving several ‘moukef‘, or informal workers, in Morocco. The accident caused the death of 14 women and 30 serious injuries in the plain of Kenitra, in the north of the country, which is famous for its strawberry production.

The ‘moukef‘ involves a form of informal employment for thousands of – predominantly female – workers who find temporary jobs in agriculture: not just in Kenitra but also the hothouses of Morocco’s Chtouka Aït Baha province. The province is covered with hundreds of burning plastic tunnels, where a modern form of slavery unfolds at the service of the country’s increasingly booming industrial export agriculture.

The ritual of labour recruitment appears to be similar to other plantation economies in Europe and the Americas: every day a handful of women who gather on an open labour market are selected by a ‘cabrane’, an informal recruiting agent whose mission is to bring them to the agricultural estates. The journey on board of the pickup trucks is full of danger for these women, who regularly become victim of road accidents.

The accident of 3 April is not an isolated case. Numerous times both local news outlets and agricultural workers associations have denounced the conditions of these workers.

Only last Summer, a similar accident involving 4 African day workers had caused a national outcry in Italy while their van crashed into a truck close to the city of Foggia, leaving the load of tomatoes spread out on the road pavement.

Appointments with ‘legality’: Italy’s slums


Another tragedy has affected African labourers in Italy’s plains this month. On 6 March, bulldozers demolished the San Ferdinando workers’ ghetto, located in the centre of Calabria’s orange plantations and Calabria’s Ndrangheta organized crime stronghold. The ghetto, which has claimed the lives of three people over the last year, had become a thorn in the eye of Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, who has ordered the erection of a tent camp as well as a restoration of public order in the area. 

In 2011 the research team Bitter Oranges recorded living conditions in San Ferdinando in this video.

The eviction of San Ferdinando (close to Rosarno, which has been termed one of Italy’s new slavery sites) forms part of Italy’s interior minister’s promise to move “from words to actions.” Matteo Salvini is also the head of the right populist League party, whose members are currently establishing an institutional alliance with the European Far Right. Since his election he has repeatedly declared his intention to “raze to the ground” Italy’s shantytowns, including Rom and refugee settlements. Over the last year, more than a dozen such camps have been demolished, including the Baobab Experience in Rome, which hosted over hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as various Sinti and Rom settlements around Turin, Pisa and the Italian capital.

The official motivation for the eviction has been one of insecurity and a lack human dignity. But the Caritas settlement does not appears to offer much of an alternative. On 22 March, another person died in its tent camp situated only a few meters away from the old ghetto. The victim’s name is Sylla Nouma, a man in his thirties. “We hoped not to deplore situations like this any more,” the mayor Andrea Tripodi declared to the press. “It was an unexpected tragedy,” Vincenzo Alampi, the local Caritas director added. Although the causes of the fire are still be ascertained, a possible reason might have been a short circuit departing form the electric wires located in the corner of the tent.

The government-directed evictions, which Matteo Salvini systematically calls “appointments with legality”, particularly appear to target precarious workers’ settlements located in the heart of Southern Italy’s vegetable and fruit plantations nowadays. After the forced eviction of Rignano Garganico and Boreano last year (both situated in the tomato districts of Foggia and the Alto Bradano), the bulldozers have started moving to the South now. Last May local authorities destroyed the informal labour settlement of Campobello di Mazara, in Sicily –leaving workers no choice but to occupy new buildings: while 128 inhabitants were haphazardly hosted in a camp managed by the Red Cross, others have started to erect smaller settlements in the periphery of neighbouring Castelveltrano, in the heart of Sicily’s olive plantations. A similar fate now awaits San Ferdinando’s settlers. At the time of the eviction, the local prefect estimated the number of slum residents at 1.592 people, according to the Repubblica newspaper. While 200 were immediately transferred to official migrant reception centres, around 900 found temporary accommodation a new tent camp managed by Caritas. Local authorities have announced 30 housing units to accommodate future migrants coming to the area. But the mayor has repeatedly warned against housing migrants without also providing for local residents in this area stricken by poverty and criminality. In the meantime, the Interior Ministry has promised 350.000 euro’s to “restore liveability” in the area of San Ferdinando.

The official motivation for the eviction has been one of insecurity and a lack human dignity. But the Caritas settlement does not appears to offer much of an alternative. On 22 March, another person died in its tent camp situated only a few meters away from the old ghetto. The victim’s name is Sylla Nouma, a man in his thirties. “We hoped not to deplore situations like this any more,” the mayor Andrea Tripodi declared to the press. “It was an unexpected tragedy,” Vincenzo Alampi, the local Caritas director added. Although the causes of the fire are still be ascertained, a possible reason might have been a short circuit departing form the electric wires located in the corner of the tent.

An unexpected tragedy? Fire in Rignano Garganico January 2017

Because of pervasive uncertainty and a lack of consideration by official policies, more and more migrants now have started to move to other vegetable and fruit plantations in the area. Last month, some West African migrants already found refuge in a previous industrial plant in the plains of Metaponto, in neighbouring Basilicata, where the strawberry harvest is currently happening at full speed. Local associations are currently assisting the squatters with social and health services in the absence of official lodging facilities. Most likely, the slum will experience the same fate in a couple of months, when strawberries will have been picked, and the tomato planting season will begin once again in Foggia and Basilicata

La Felandina squat in Metaponto (c) OMB

Congo: Power to the Margins paperback

I am glad to announce the appearance of the paperback version of my book Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo with Cambridge University Press. The book comes at a time of great turmoil in Congo’s north-east, where the end of armed conflict is not at all in sight, as recent reports from Ituri and le Grand Nord reveal. Reading through the detailed colonial and postcolonial history of this region makes one aware of the underlying dynamics of this armed conflict, which finds its origins in a series of intricate relations between regional politics, cross-border economies and capital accumulation. As Janosch Kullenberg writes in a recent review: the book moves beyond the “stereotypical and simplistic understandings about state failure and chronic violence in central Africa [which] have not led to great insights about either the mechanisms at work, or the emerging orders.” Instead the recent reports about continued violence in Eastern Congo make it worthwhile to approach this “constant crisis” through the long-term consequences of every day decision-making through a “ethnography of critical life worlds”.

New Plantation

With less than one month to go, I gladly announce here the closing event of the New Plantations project, in Brussels on 14 December. For the last two years our international research team from Switzerland, Belgium and Italy has analyzed migrant work conditions in Europe, focusing on dynamics of illegalization, racialization and labour exploitation in the contintent’s agricultural sector.

Directed by a group of activists, artists and academics, the event will highlight the forces at play in the European horticultural industry. Rather than a classic presentation-based conference, the workshop will be pinpointed around several interactive tables, each of which will address a specific theme. The event will be closed by a short theatre show by Cantieri Meticci, whose members have been active participants in this project.

Anyone who is interested in participating, please send a confirmation email to project director Timothy Raeymaekers (timothy.raeymaekers@geo.uzh.ch) by November 30th.  More information on time, place and logistics of the event can be found on our facebook page and on the attached flyer. The language of the event will be French.

https://snis.ch/project/new-plantations-migrant-mobility-illegality-racialisation/

https://www.facebook.com/events/1768416089866523/

171114_Brussels flyer final

Oro Rosso, Sangue Nero

Invitation to the the first episode of a series of sessions on the Black Mediterranean – a topic amply discussed on these pages.

location: the MET – Bologna,

time: March 25, at 16.30-23.00,

During the meeting we will discuss the working conditions of Black African labourers in South Italy’s tomato fields (particularly Puglia and Basilicata). The workshop will revolve around several tables, each of which will produce a different map of this agricultural frontier.

More info on facebook and on the MET info site (in Italian)

Foggia: new evictions underway

Little over two weeks after the eviction of the Ghetto of Rignano the situation in the province of Foggia continues to worsen. Still hundreds of people continue to live in the vicinity of the ghetto, huddled in caravans, cars and abandoned houses. While Minister Marco Minniti continues to associate these informal settlements with “illegal migration” (an observation that has repeatedly been proven false: in fact agricultural workers are for the most part regular immigrants), the police and judiciary of Foggia province firm their grip around the urban areas as well. Yesterday, local sources say, around 30 people have been identified and prosecuted for illegal occupation at a site in the periphery of Foggia, located in a former milk factory. The site has been evoked more than once as an example of resistance against the caporalato system, because workers located at la Casa Bianca -as they have renominated the former factory- refuse to work with illegal intermediaries. And, together with Pro Fuga -a local association from which they have drawn some support- they have denounced numerous times the detrimental effects of forced evictions on migrant labourers. The Foggia prosecution signals a clear change of course in addressing the phenomenon of migrant labour in Southern Italy: from 20 years of neglect, institutions appear to move towards a gradual dismantling of all remaining labour settlements -including those situated in urban areas.

 

Agromafia: the report

Just while Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti was announcing the eradication of all remaining informal labour settlements today, the study bureau Eurispes finished its fifth Report #Agromafie2017, on the linkages between organised crime and the agri-food system in the country. Their conclusions, which they presented together with the agricultural employers union Coldiretti in Rome today: agro-mafias continue to grow, with an increased turnover of 30% last year alone, reaching about 22 billion euros.

The criminalised food chain includes Chinese mafia involvement in rice imports -which reached unseen levels in 2016- to local Italian organised crime groups such as the Piromalli clan, who control the Calabrian meat market, to the olive oil sales of the Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, and the typical buffalo mozzarella owned by the Napels-based Casalesi clan.

But as previous Agromafie reports indicated, food mafias by far outreach traditional organized crime sectors. They rather serve to oil the links between a thriving agricultural production, and global consumers. Just recently, the British newspaper The Observer told the story of Nicoleta Bolos, a Romanian farm workster who, in the countryside of Ragusa, was forced to have sexual relations with the owner of the greenhouse where she worked for a pittance. Raped, beaten and exploited. That this is not an isolated case confirms Bruno Giordano, magistrate at the Supreme Court of nearby Vittoria on the pages of Left magazine. Police say they believe that up to 7,500 women, the majority of whom Romanian, are living in slavery on farms across the region.

A group of writers and activists (Leonardo Palmisano, Marco Omizzolo, Giulio Cavalli and Stefano Catone) now has launched the idea of ​​a national march against the caporalato mafia in mid-April (the exact date is to be decided) in the Capitanata -where two Malian farm workers recently died when their shacks burnt in what appears to be a lit fire. The initiators ask for a revision of legislation that was recently passed on illegal hiring, but which does not protect the workers enough in their view. The text reads (in Italian):

“The caporale is the last link in a chain that joins different interests in the name of cost reduction: from major retailers who set the price, through brokers and manufacturers seeking to maximize their profit. In the mix often enters the mafia also, who control much of the supply chain, from farmers markets, major hubs, the sorting and transportation of fruit and vegetables grown in Italy or imported from abroad. Sometimes with the complicity of local politics. Hence the urgency of an initiative that turning on the spotlight highlighting strongly some issues to be addressed urgently, and the idea of a National March.”

East Congo: Power to the Margins

9781107082076I am somewhat proud to announce the publication of my first single authored book with Cambridge University Press: Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo: Power to the Margins.
The book discusses the radical transformation of eastern Congo’s political order in the context of apparent armed destruction and state weakness. Throughout the seven chapters, I trace back today’s violent rule patterns to a tumultuous history of extra-economic accumulation, armed rebellion and de facto public authority in the margins of regional power plays.
The book’s originality lies in its critically assessment of East Congo’s presumed collapse into “chaos”. Looking beyond the dominant paradigms, my main focus lies on cultural and economic uncertainty. Rather than curing the world’s ills – which, unfortunately, remains the dominant tendency in contemporary conflict analysis – I try to answer the difficult but important question what institutional changes result from strategies of daily risk management in an environment characterised by violent competition over the right to govern.
Pre-order forms can be found here

displacement economies

The LSE Book Review decided to dedicate a piece on an edited volume I have chapter in, on Displacement Economies (edited by Amanda Hammar, and published with Zed Books).

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It describes the book as “a volume of varied, compelling discussions on displacement economies in Africa that seeks to shed light on the large influence of displacement on the continent’s economies, and address the lack of systematic research on this topic. It does so through unusual angles that range from the Somali economy of camel milk to the role that being ‘out of place’ plays in the identity and livelihoods of unarmed youth in Eastern DRC. Each of the ten authors admirably examines both the widening and contracting opportunities present in situations where unpredictability and uncertainty dictate both the economic market and peoples’ lives. All of the chapters in some way address the questions: What do we find when we broaden the lens on displacement economies? And, what is not just destroyed but produced by displacement?”

The book’s compelling invitation – which owes much to Amanda Hammar’s sharp introduction – is that it “to look beyond the crisis of displacement and examine the adaptation and innovation of the economies that persist in, and even result from, such situations.” Also welcome is the reviewer’s emphasis on the cohesiveness of our argument, which, given the disperse character of displacement in the diverse case studies we describe, should be read as an achievement.

You can read the entire book review here.