Borgo Mezzanone strikes: if you want tomatoes, give us houses and documents!
Yesterday, 10 August, at the height of the tomato season, workers living on the former runway in Borgo Mezzanone blocked the ghetto – the largest recruiting ground in the entire agricultural district – triggering a strike that affected the harvesting work of the entire province of Foggia. From the early hours of the morning, the workers living on the former runway decided not to go to work and to stage a protest in front of the gates of the CARA adjacent to the ghetto, where the Territorial Commission for the Recognition of International Protection is also based.
The demands were clear: a real change in the migration policies that increasingly leave thousands of people without documents, starting with the provisions of the last Cutro decree, and housing solutions for all the people living in the Borgo Mezzanone ghetto, also in the light of the recent fires – the last one two days ago – that continue to destroy homes, personal belongings, and even documents.
To the police chiefs who immediately went to the site, the workers asked them to also question the Prefecture and all those in charge of the container camp adjacent to the CARA, which contains 130 housing modules that have been ready for use for about three years but have never been opened.
The workers demanded its immediate opening without waiting until the end of August: a timing set by the Prefect that makes no sense, given that the containers are ready and the season started weeks ago.
Anger at the Prefect’s refusal to come to the site, where the striking people demanded to meet with him all at once, drove the workers first in front of the gate of the closed container camp and then to storm inside, starting a garrison of several hours among those modules whose only thing missing now are the keys.
The only answers the director of the Immigration Office and the deputy Questore managed to give the workers were lies and mockery. And when asked why some of the containers had been removed, they replied that they had been taken to the camp built for the Bulgarian male and female workers evicted a few weeks ago in Stornara. An institutionalised war between the poor.
To the determination and insistence of the garrison, the police only responded with serious provocations throughout the day, going so far as to send a celere truck to intimidate and then even pulling out a gun in reaction to a few kicks thrown at a container after hours of waiting under the scorching sun.
Once again the institutional leaders of this system of exploitation and precariousness have succeeded in blocking the way for those who have the right to a home but cannot even get into a container; for those who, by breaking their backs, keep the economy of an entire country going, risking, among other things, dying from work every day: as happened on 7 August in the ghetto of Rignano, where a Malian worker, Famakan Dembele, died of fatigue after a day’s work.
Your silence does not frighten us, we go on.
Contracted houses for all!
We want houses, they won’t even give us containers! – communiqué of the labourers on strike on 10 August
We are the people who live in the Borgo Mezzanone ‘ghetto’. Some of us have lived here for a long time, others have arrived recently. Many of us work in agriculture, and for years we have been organising ourselves to have a better life. We have taken to the streets many times, we have raised our voices and found a way to make ourselves heard, because we do not accept that our lives depend on a document, because it is not right to be exploited while many do their own bidding and get rich behind our backs: the bosses, those who build the fields where we live, those who manage them, those who decide on migration policies, and often even the organisations that should defend us, such as the trade unions.
Today, 10 August, we are demonstrating in front of the gates of the CARA, the centre for asylum seekers built here in Borgo Mezzanone in 2005, which also houses the headquarters of the Territorial Commission for the Right to Asylum: an important place for many reasons. Dozens of new containers were installed in this camp in 2021 with funds from the Puglia region, which claimed to want to combat exploitation and give those in the ghetto a better place to live. In addition to the damage, there is also the mockery: those containers, which are nothing more than a new ghetto, are ready for use, but have been empty for two years, while in recent weeks dozens of people have lost their homes due to yet another fire in the ghetto. All this at the busiest time of the year, when the tomato harvest is about to begin.
As we have always said, life in reception centres and labour camps is not the life we want, least of all if we have to live in tents or containers, which are not real houses, but only precarious structures that enrich those who build them and those who manage them, where we are not free and are isolated.
Many of us who live inside the camp know this very well: the food is extremely poor, there are very few places and the containers are overcrowded, there are very few toilets and the hygienic conditions, especially in summer, are very bad. We have already protested at the prefecture and with the cooperative that runs the camp many times to denounce these conditions, but little or nothing has been done. In the meantime, there are about 130 new containers that have been closed for years, which could, in the immediate future, improve conditions especially for those who have lost their homes. But even opening them at the end of August, as the Prefect of Foggia promised, would still be too late. Doesn’t that seem absurd? To us it seems an injustice that we cannot accept.
Moreover, as is now well known, the government has allocated more than 53 million of the PNRR funds to the municipality of Manfredonia for the elimination of the Borgo Mezzanone ghetto and to find alternative housing solutions for agricultural workers. In January, the project agreement was signed, but it repeats the usual script and proposes unacceptable solutions: on the one hand, building ‘foresterie’ (i.e. new ‘camps’), and on the other, readjusting the reclamation or agrarian reform hamlets, making a distinction between seasonal and permanent workers, as if the precariousness of life and work to which we are forced was our choice.
Ignoring the countless failures of similar experiments in the past, they intend to use vast amounts of public money (and thus ours) for matters that should be the responsibility of employers. As if that were not enough, the government has given no sign of approving this and the other projects submitted by the municipalities in the province, and the deadline was 30 June: what will happen to all this money?
We had already taken to the streets in Foggia on 6 March to demand immediate clarity from the prefecture on the use of these funds and to emphasise the ineffectiveness of the proposed solutions, and we were told that everything was still at a standstill.
On that day we also protested against the delays and denials by the territorial commission, receiving a promise to speed up the response time and to facilitate regularisation. But today we also have new reasons to protest: with the approval of the ‘Cutro’ decree, the possibilities of being granted a residence permit have narrowed even further, while there is talk of bringing in 400 thousand workers with the flow decrees over the next three years. And for those who are already in Italy and are perhaps forced to work ‘off the books’ because they are irregular, only silence and shanties, risking their lives every day at work, on the streets and even in the places where we live.
We want an immediate change of direction from the territorial commission, the police headquarters, and the government: we cannot continue to wait months and months for a document or an appointment, and the large number of negative outcomes to applications submitted, even when they meet the already tight criteria of the law, is impressive. We contribute decisively to the economy of this province and the country, but we are not allowed to have normal houses to live in. The only real way to put an end to ghettos and caporalato, as the institutions and newspapers say, is to give us a document and respect the collective agreements that provide housing and transport for seasonal workers.
That is why we are here in front today: we demand precise and urgent answers from the President of the Region, the Prefect, and therefore from the government regarding housing and documents.
We therefore demand
– Immediate opening of the new containers for the people who need them, regardless of their legal status and possession of a document. In the meantime, we continue to demand houses for all;
– That the territorial commission reduce waiting times and issue positive opinions to those applying for protection, considering the living and working conditions we have been forced to endure for years;
– An urgent response from the managing body, following the denunciation of the situation inside the CARA.
Finally, we want clarity from the Prefecture and the government on when and how the PNRR project will be implemented. We will not accept yet another speculation, we are the ones who have to decide what to do with them. The solutions that are being talked about can in no way be reception centres, tent camps or container camps.
No person should live on the streets, in a ghetto, but neither should they live in a tent or a container. We should all be free to move freely, to choose the life we want, free from exploitation and violence in all its forms, including institutional violence.
That is why, today as yesterday, we never tire of repeating that we demand documents and houses for everyone immediately and working conditions that make us live well.