A joint operation by police forces in Apulia, Calabria, Campania, Sicily and Tuscany has led to the arrest of 16 members of an organisation that has been luring immigrants to Italy with false promises of work and then enslaving them as they work for hours on end each day in the fields and live in inhumane conditions. According to reports by the investigators, this organisation was operating in Nardò (Lecce), Rosarno (Reggio Calabria) and other cities in southern Italy. Nardò in summer houses hundreds of immigrants arriving from all over Apulia and the rest of Italy to work in the fields, mainly to harvest watermelons.
The investigation, codename ‘Sabr’, started in January 2009. Italians, Algerians, Tunisians and Sudanese were working for the organisation in Apulia, Sicily, Calabria and Tunisia. The individuals under investigation allegedly encouraged the illegal entry of nationals from non‑EU countries, mainly Tunisia and Ghana, to work harvesting watermelons and tomatoes. Most of them were ‘recruited’ in Tunisia, where numerous people, driven by desperation, were given false hope and transported first to Sicily, and then on to the Italian peninsula. Here they worked first in fields in Pachino, Syracuse, then in Nardò, in the province of Lecce. In Nardò, also known as ‘Watermelon City’, a sort of ‘cartel’ was formed between employers and ‘gang leaders’ who provided labour for seasonal agricultural jobs in different regions. The illegal immigrants were kept away from populated areas, deprived of any money they had on them, paid derisory sums and housed in shacks provided by the ‘employers’, which had no running water, sanitation services or electricity. They were forced to work 10 to 12-hour shifts, even during Ramadan when many Muslim workers abstained from eating and drinking. By not paying taxes or social security contributions, the organisation’s members made ‘significant’ profits from this.
1. Is the Commission aware of the arrests following the swoop by the Italian police?
2. Does it feel border controls, including via the EU’s agency Frontex, should be stepped up and more stringent EU regulations introduced for crimes against the person?