“We work at night as if it were midday.” These are the words of one of the Tunisians in Vittoria, who has invested his own savings in order to become a small landowner. He is one of those who escaped only to arrive in a thirty year system of exploitation which guaranteed green gold (a recently coined term used to describe the wealth generated from the agricultural sector) for the Italians, yet only hunger for the foreigners. Today, an article in the Repubblica, written without a shred of evidence, accuses the migrants of being prestanome (buying land in their name on behalf of the mafia using mafia funds). VITTORIA (Rg). ” We work at night as if it were midday. I have a business partner, my brother-in-law, who is also Tunisian. We grow tomatoes and aubergines. We’ve hired 7,000 square metres of greenhouses.” We met Fouad in 2010. His story is told in the book You Call them Irregular Immigrants written with Laura Galesi. It is a voice among many, that tells the story of the Tunisian community in the province of Ragusa. The migrants arrived 30 years ago and have helped sustain the economy by working long hours in the greenhouses. They were the driving force behind the economic boom that enabled produce to be exported throughout Europe. Today, it is their sweat which is keeping the crisis at bay. Since the first arrivals many other workers from the Maghreb Region and eastern Europe have arrived. It is possible to blackmail some of them with their permit of stay, while others are ready to work for very low sums, so that they can send money back home.
None of them has ever been rewarded with a fixed contract (we are not dealing with seasonal work, but a job that requires workers 12 months a year) or public recognition. And furthermore, we are talking about thousands and thousands of people without whom the green gold would have disappeared long ago.
Now, a surreal investigation by Repubblica.it places the mafia at the centre of a phenomenon, which has existed for many years, of foreigners purchasing land. What seems like a normal 30 year plan offering the migrants social and economic integration is instead being portrayed as a mysterious way of moving money around. “Where do the migrants get their capital from? The Finance Police suspect that, next to the honest ex- labourer who has been carefully saving up little by little over the years, there are others who despite making out that they fall into this category, have other means. And we know very well that in Sicily it is usually the mafia who are the ones with spare capital to invest.” And this is how rumours and prejudices start and spread: first there is a suspicion, then a voice, then the jumping to logical assumptions that then become a label which remains in the memory of the reader: “The crisis, the mafia, speculation and we arrive at: a lot of land taken by migrants who have a large amount of capital.”