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Salvini crackdown: bulldozers demolish Italian camp housing 1,500 refugees

More than 1,500 people are being ousted from the refugee camp at San Ferdinando, in southern Italy, in the largest eviction since Italy’s rightwing populist government’s immigration measures kicked in.

On Wednesday morning, almost 1,000 paramilitary police officers surrounded the 400 shacks where the migrants have lived since the camp was established in 2010, near Gioia Tauro, in Calabria. As people were ushered out clutching their few possessions, bulldozers demolished the shanty town of cardboard and wood huts in a matter of hours.

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“As promised … we went from words to actions,” said the interior minister, Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right League party. The majority of the camp’s inhabitants are from sub-Saharan Africa and worked in nearby farmers’ fields as illegal agricultural workers for paltry, exploitative wages.

In February, the mayor of San Ferdinando, Andrea Tripodi, said the camp was a danger to health and a fire risk. Four people have died in fires there over the past year.

Salvini had promised to relocate them to reception centres, but several refugees told Italian media they were looking to find shelter in abandoned houses in the countryside. Aid groups condemned the authorities, arguing that the demolition will increase homelessness and risk social unrest.

Celeste Logiacco, union leader for Flai-CGIL, told the Guardian that the camp was home to at least 200 women, many of them victims of sex trafficking. “I just hope they will find a safe place for them,” she said. “They are vulnerable women who need help and support.’’

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According to activists, more than a dozen illegal camps have been demolished in Italy over the past four years. In March 2017, the authorities cleared a settlement in Rignano Garganico, the largest migrant labourer camp in Europe, which accommodated 3,000 workers in Puglia. A year earlier, bulldozers destroyed a camp in Nardò, in the Salento region, which housed about 100 labourers.

Two months later another informal shantytown, Borreano, in Basilicata, which also housed hundreds of African workers, was demolished. Last May the informal camp in Campobello di Mazara in Sicily was demolished by the local authorities, who deemed it too dangerous for people to live there because of the human waste scattered around an area that had no electricity, toilets or showers.
Migrant labour is a booming business in Sicily, not only for farmers but also for the contractors who recruit men and women to work illegally in the fields.

Some Africans who have seen their camps destroyed say they are being paid €2 (£1.71) an hour, €7.50 below the legal minimum wage.

According to the Italian Union of Farmers (UILA), 36% of workers employed in the agricultural sector are foreigners, mainly from Africa.

Laws passed in 2017 promised eight-year prison sentences for those recruiting and exploiting migrant workers. But Italian labour unions say up to 300,000 illegal workers continue to generate billions of euros a year in profit for Italy’s agricultural sector.

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