From Mali to dying of heat in an Italian field

Farm work banned at midday in the south of the country after the death of a Malian day labourer

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Jornalers in the countryside in the south of Italy.

BarcelonaThe region of Apulia, in southern Italy, has banned work in the fields between 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., when high temperatures can pose a health risk. It is a response to the sudden death of Camara Fatamandi, a 27-year-old Mali-born boy who fell prone on St John's Day while cycling after working in the fields at over 40 degrees Celsius in Brindisi. The ban will be in force until August 31st and the African community is calling for it to be extended to the entire Italian territory.

"He stopped pedaling, left the bike, fell to the ground on his knees and fainted. That's how he ended his days", a witness recalled to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The Malian had only been in the region for three days, coming from the town of Eboli, near Naples, and lived with his brother. According to his family, he worked from sunrise to sunset for six euros an hour. The authorities are investigating the circumstances of his death.

Italy is experiencing a heat wave that in some regions is sending thermometers soaring to 44 or 45 degrees Celsius. Thousands of day laborers from Africa or Eastern Europe work in the vineyard or fruit harvest following the so called caporalato. The system whereby day laborers pay part of their wages to the caporales, who are often linked to mafias. Just last week seven men were arrested on charges of exploiting migrant workers in the region in "exhausting days in the sun". "It's an inhuman death", Riccardo Rossi, the mayor of Brindisi, told Rai in an interview on Saturday, acknowledging that there was no medical equipment to treat Fantamadi and the other day laborers in the area. "These conditions in the countryside are unacceptable", he said.

In a statement released by the local media, the African community in the city denounced that the young man "did not die of an illness but of exploitation", and announced a collection to pay the costs of the repatriation of the young man's body.

"A death foretold"

For their part, in a joint statement several unions have claimed that the event, which they consider "a death foretold", serves to "put the focus on the situation of thousands of migrant workers who work in conditions of inhuman exploitation, which violate not only the laws but the most elementary rules of respect for the dignity of the person". They also warn that these workers "are forced to submit to blackmail, illegal intermediation and the black economy" and demand "more dignity for people who are undervalued but very useful for our agriculture, without whom agricultural production would no longer be possible".

In particular, they demand better wages, recruitment and really effective reception and integration policies. At the same time, they propose to provide free transport for day labourers. The unions recall that Fatamandi's death is not an isolated case: in July 2015 Paola Clemente, a 49-year-old Italian day labourer and mother of three children, died of a heart attack probably caused by heat stroke while harvesting grapes in the town of Andria, in the same region. That same summer, a Sudanese, a Tunisian and a Romanian also died in various locations in the Italian countryside.