Up against the border


FCEI/MH has opened a new “construction site” in Rosarno aimed at intervening in the overwhelming social hardship of thousands of immigrants living in tent camps and exploited under semi-slave conditions as seasonal agricultural workers. This is the first correspondence from Rosarno

Rosarno (NEV), 5 June 2019 – The “Lo sguardo dalle frontiere” (A Look from the Border) editorial is written by operators of Mediterranean Hope (MH), the migrant project of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI). This week’s “Look” comes from Rosarno and was written by Alberto Mallardo and Francesco Piobbichi.

The sachets of Oki on the ground near the tents of the Rosarno camp are a trace well known by those who work on the border. This pain-relief medicine is used to relieve the physical and mental pain of those working in the fields. Like every ghetto, this one is also separated by space from the surrounding urban areas, and like every ghetto it is a tool of segregation and exclusion from the rights associated with residency and work. The mark of the border is testified by the shacks of the makeshift camp destroyed by bulldozers not far from the blue tents set up by the government.

We meet the ambassador of Burkina Faso, Josephine Ouedraogo, who has arrived here to personally witness the conditions of her compatriots in Piana di Gioia Tauro. She listens attentively to the young people who pour out their grief and anger, she is the only one who has had the courage to come and see the conditions of her fellow citizens. Together we head to Drosi, a small friendly village where the simple and natural integration procedure impresses us with its power. It is moving to hear the Burkinabe talk about their lives for the first time before an authority of their country who recognises their dignity. In those eyes we see a deep pride that we are not used to seeing in the eyes of those who come from Libya and land in Lampedusa.

Working on the island of Lampedusa and at the same time taking action in the plain of Gioia Tauro reminds us of what the frontier produces as it filters, disciplines and imprisons those who arrive in a condition of permanent vulnerability. And the word that we use to welcome so many people to Lampedusa – “benvenuti” – takes on a special meaning to those of us who look around, in this place, it seems to empty itself of all meaning. People forced into social invisibility pedal along the road after having worked for dozens of hours in the fields. Alone at night with their boots still dirty from the soil, they pass in front of us and greet us with a smile accompanied by the lights of the port of Gioia Tauro that act as a backdrop.

However, in recent months, the night has not only been illuminated by these lights, but also by the fire of the burning shacks that have eaten lives. The media talks about the lives and conditions of the workers only when these people die in the flames or as happened a year ago in Soumalia Sacko, when they are killed because they were looking for sheet metal in an abandoned factory to build their own shack. This is not the first time that workers have become a target, it has happened many times, such as the 2011 revolt that led to the tragic events of Rosarno. While Giuseppe Pugliese from the SOS Rosarno Association accompanies us to the station, we meet a person whose skin still carries the scars of the bullets of 2011. He smiles at us and tells us that until last week he was in Riace where he worked as a cleaner in the small town. But now everything is closed, and he has come back to Rosarno to start all over again.

“To start all over again”, these words resound in our heads as we walk around the Piana and see the makeshift camps that are slowly being emptied because the workers are heading north to follow the harvest season, passing from the oranges of the plain to the tomatoes of Foggia. It seems that the entire labour system is keeping their lives in a constant state of precariousness. Forcing them, season after season, to live in an eternal present where it is not possible to have dignity and rights.