Italy: MSF Assists Migrant Workers Living in Appalling Conditions

Italy 2009 © Gianluigi Lopes/MSF

An undocumented migrant works in Puglia. 

For the sixth consecutive year, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing health care to undocumented seasonal migrant workers in southern Italy. Once again, poor living and working conditions pose a serious threat to their mental and physical health.

Since mid-August, thousands of migrants have been flocking to the southern Italian region of Puglia for the annual tomato-picking season. The majority are from sub-Saharan Africa, living in Italy undocumented and in appalling sanitary conditions in abandoned houses and cardboard shacks without electricity or gas.

“Since last year, following MSF’s requests, regional authorities have taken some measures to improve living conditions for migrants, such as providing water tanks and latrines,” said Antonio Virgilio, MSF’s head of mission in Italy. “However, this is still far from enough to meet their basic needs."

"I live in a shack and I sleep on a mattress on the floor. I didn’t think I would have such a bad life in Italy."

Issa, 20, from Ivory Coast, has been in Italy for two months and works in the tomato farms in Puglia. “If all goes well I will earn 30 euros (US$44) per day here, but I don’t have work every day. I live in a shack and I sleep on a mattress on the floor. I didn’t think I would have such a bad life in Italy.”

Limited access to health care, inadequate shelter and exploitation at work are some of the difficulties faced by the seasonal migrants. The consequences are seen during MSF medical consultations. Gastrointestinal complaints and general body pain are common. “These migrants are getting sick as a consequence of the conditions they are subjected to,” said Alvise Benelli, an MSF doctor in Puglia.

The MSF team in Puglia provides free medical and psychological care to the undocumented migrant workers. They also facilitate access to public health facilities.