Saturday, May 2, 2020

Misery of Italy's migrants grows from lockdown

Even before the coronavirus outbreak plunged Italy into crisis, tens of thousands of undocumented African migrants barely scraped by as day laborers, prostitutes, freelance hairdressers and seasonal farm hands
They are referred to as “the invisibles": Undocumented African migrants who, even before the coronavirus outbreak plunged Italy into crisis, barely scraped by as day laborers, prostitutes, freelance hairdressers and seasonal farm hands.

Locked down for 2 months in crumbling apartments during a mob-infiltrated town north of Naples, their hand-to-mouth existence has grown even more precarious with no work, no food and no hope.
Italy is preparing to reopen some business and industry on Monday during a preliminary easing of its virus shutdown. But there's no indication that “the invisibles” of Castel Volturno will revisit to figure anytime soon, and no evidence that the government’s social nets will ease their misery.

“I need help. Help me. For my children, for my husband, i want help,” said a tearful Mary Sado Ofori, a Nigerian hairdresser and mother of three who has been holed up in her overcrowded apartment block. She ran out of milk for her 6-month old, and is getting by on handouts from a lover .

A patchwork team of a volunteers, medics, a priest, a cultural mediator and native hall officials try to form sure “the invisibles” aren’t forgotten entirely, delivering groceries daily to their choked apartments and trying to supply health care. But the necessity is outstripping the resources.

“There may be a n emergency within the COVID emergency which is a social emergency,” said Sergio Serraiano, who runs a health clinic in town. “We knew this was getting to happen, and that we were expecting it from the start .”

The virus struck hardest in Italy’s prosperous industrial north, where the primary homegrown case was registered Feb. 21 and where most of the infected and 27,000 dead were recorded. the majority of the government’s attention and response focused on reinforcing the health care system there to face up to the onslaught of tens of thousands of sick.

Castel Volturno is another world entirely, a 27-kilometer (17-mile) strip of land running along the ocean north of Naples that's controlled by the Camorra gangland syndicate. Here there have only been a few dozen COVID cases, and none among the migrants.

But Castel Volturno has other problems that the COVID crisis has exacerbated. referred to as the “Terra dei Fuochi” or land of fires, Castel Volturno and surrounding areas have unusually high cancer rates, blamed on the illegal dumping and burning of toxic industrial waste that have polluted the air, sea and underground wells.

Here the mob runs drugs and waste disposal, and officials have warned the clans are primed to take advantage of the economic misery that the virus shutdowns have caused.

It is also here that “the invisibles” have settled over the years, many after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya in smugglers boats hoping for a far better life. nobody knows their numbers surely , but estimates run as high as 600,000 nationally. In Castel Volturno, a city with a politician population of around 26,000, there are estimates of 10,000 to 20,000.

The men get by on day jobs picking tomatoes, lemons or oranges, or in construction where they earn 25 euros (US$28) each day . the lady sell their bodies, or if they're lucky, work as freelance hairstylists or selling trinkets and cigarette lighters on the road .

In normal times, the lads gather at 4 a.m. at the roundabouts that dot the Via Domiziana main street , expecting trucks to select them up and take them to farms or construction sites. But since the lockdown, even that illegal off-the-books system referred to as “caporalato” has ground to a halt.

The migrants, who already were living precariously without official residency or work permits, now can’t pay their rent or take out .

“We don’t have electricity. We don’t have water. We don’t have documents,” said Jimmy Donko, a 43-year-old Ghanaian migrant who lives with 46 Nigerian and Ghanaian men during a dark, rundown house where filthy dishes fill the sink and old blankets function curtains over broken windows.

To bathe, wash and flush the rest room , he and his housemates walk 300 meters (yards) with buckets to a fountain and back.

The level of desperation is clear everywhere: With no electricity or refrigeration, food spoils quickly and is cooked immediately. On a recent day, cooked fish and goat heads were overlooked on shelves. Outside, chicken was being cooked on a makeshift stove made up of old mattress springs.

A consortium of unions and nonprofit organizations has involved a general amnesty to legalize undocumented migrants. Government ministers have vowed to assist even those within the black-market economy survive the emergency. A proposed law would legalize migrant farm workers for the strawberry, peach and melon harvests, as long as Italy’s legal seasonal farm hands are kept reception in Eastern Europe due to virus travel restrictions.

But no proposals have made it into law, and there's fierce opposition nationwide and in tiny Castel Volturno to any moves to legalize the African workforce currently here.

“We are talking about 20,000 illegal migrants during a population of 26,000 inhabitants – that creates it almost equal one foreigner for one Italian,” said Mayor Luigi Petrella, of the right-wing, anti-migrant Brothers of Italy party. “It seems absurd to propose something like that.”

That said, hall is functioning to feed the masses, teaming up with the local Centro Fernandes refugee center to bring bags of food every day to the locked-down, out-of-work migrants.

The Rev. Daniele Moschetti, a former missionary in Nairobi, Kenya, now delivers groceries to the poor in his homeland.

“It was different once I was in Nairobi,” he said, during an opportunity in his grocery rounds. “There was poverty, but it had been more human. Here there's something diabolical about all this, something evil in how of these people are treated.”