For six years dozens of asylum seekers are used in Italy to clean streets and cutting grass in public gardens. They work for free in so-called volunteer projects. Proposed as paths of social inclusion, often they seem a way to help municipalities in economic stress.
The Italian Constitution forbids free labour. But this is a wider political initiative: switching from welfare model to workfare.

Italian government presented a law for community services and executed for free by asylum seekers.

Also Washington Post wrote about that. And everyone’s speaking about a new chance. Actually it’s just a way to regularize everything that has been in existence. For at least six years, dozens of municipalities in Northern and Central Italy have been setting up volunteer projects often hiding free labour. First of them date back to 2011. Only three years ago a ministerial Circular (not a law) ruled a few points of the matter.

There are thin but clear boundaries between volunteering and labour. The first begins and ends. Everyday activities are labour. Sweeping roads every day is evidently labour.

The Government wants to stop “the feeling of hate against immigrants” hosted in emergency reception centres. Free labour is presented as a way of integration and a method to give back to Italian people the money spent in hospitality. A lot of people call them “parasites that earn 35 euros per day” (just costs of food and bed paid to “enti gestori”, i.e. managing bodies of reception centres).

Municipalities can use this hate to partially fix the structural lack of funds.

So everywhere immigrants are “employed” in street cleaning and maintenance of green areas. Projects are multiplying every day both in little towns in Emilia, Tuscany, Veneto and in big cities like Milan and Genoa. Rome is building its own projects.

Riots

Complaints started with early projects. In January 2015 in San Miniato, a small town close to Pisa, five African asylum seekers stopped a municipality project. After several months of free labour (obviously they cleaned the streets), they asked a regular wage. “Are we regular people or not? Why should we clean roads for free? Isn’t this a job? Then pay it!”.

In several cases immigrants refuse free labour from the beginning. When it happens, right wing press, local politician and people are shocked.

Two years ago, in Palmanova (near Udine, north-eastern Italy) 34 afghans refused a “volunteer project” for – once again – roads cleaning.

A year ago, in Gragnano Trebbiense, close to Piacenza, asylum seekers from Pakistan chose to deliver flyers for 10 euros per hour rather than working for free cleaning wells in that four thousand-inhabitants town.

A conservative newspaper reported the major statement: “They must return something to us to pay hospitality. If they refuse, we must push back them at their home”.

Refugees are blocked between Italian reception system and closed boundaries. Most of them, in fact, want to go to Northern Europe. Everybody desires a quick response to asylum application. Nobody tolerates not to send money at home.

The frame

In 2016 86.000 asylum seekers were hosted in Italy, mostly in so-called CAS (extraordinary reception centres). In most cases these are improvised facilities, managed by people interested in long-term hosting to obtain more public funds. Often immigrants complain for quick residence times. In big reception centres in Bari and Mineo there were riots with stone-throwing.

Despite accusation of laziness, many asylum seekers work hard to send money at home. They pick fruits in severe exploitation conditions, without contracts. Hundreds of them are exploited in Sicily and Calabria during orange harvest. In Tuscany, reception centres are a reservoir for low cost manpower in wine-harvest.

In southern Sicily asylum seekers reduced labour cost of Romanian workers, already enormously low.

Sull'autore

Antonello Mangano

È autore di ricerche, inchieste e saggi sui temi delle migrazioni e della lotta alla mafia. Fondatore della casa editrice “terrelibere.org”. E’ autore dei libri "Gli africani salveranno Rosarno" (terrelibere.org 2009), “Gli africani salveranno l’Italia” (Rizzoli 2010) e "Voi li chiamate clandestini" (manifestolibri 2010), "Zenobia" (Castelvecchi 2013). Collabora con MicroMega, Repubblica.it, L'Espresso.