Migrant deaths highlight rural tension in Italy

Wed, Nov 28, 2012, 00:00

Even dead migrant workers are exploitable. Or so it would seem from the hardly edifying scenes that followed the deaths last Saturday of six Romanian farm workers killed in a horrific train accident near Rossano in Calabria, southern Italy.

The workers were killed when the Fiat Multipla car in which they were travelling home was struck by a train at a countryside level crossing, late in the afternoon.

The impact of the crash reduced the car to mangled steel, instantly killing the six passengers, three men and three women. It took rescue workers and firemen hours to extract the bodies.

The pain and distress of the Romanian workers’ families did not end there. When relatives arrived at the scene late on Saturday night, they were horrified to find rival undertaker companies arguing about who had the right to collect the bodies. As the undertakers squabbled, one of the bodies was knocked off the rescue service stretcher and onto the ground.

In a short clip ( today.it/citta/rossano) that has been frequently viewed, relatives of the dead workers are heard to shout angrily at the undertakers: “Shame on you. Shame on the Italian people.” In the clip, the police appear to stand back, unsure what to do.

The tragedy once again serves to highlight the precarious working conditions of seasonal farm workers in southern Italy. The six dead had been harvesting clementines, probably for a daily wage packet of €20 euro.

In a homily on Sunday, the bishop of Rossano, Santo Marciano, called on local farmers to reject the “logic of dishonesty and exploitation which reduces human beings to conditions of modern slavery”.

Two years ago, police had to bus 1,300 mainly African seasonal farm workers out of another Calabrian town, Rosarno, following three days of riots and scuffles involving the workers and local people. The riots started after shots were fired, almost certainly by ’Ndrangheta Mafiosi, at some of the Africans in an attempt to enforce territorial control.

The level crossing at which the six died is one which the Italian state train authority (FSI) leases to private citizens, most often farmers. They are usually closed off by a padlocked gate.

Investigators have yet to establish the full dynamics of the tragedy, although it is known that two Romanian workers survived the crash because they had got out of the car to open the crossing gate.