IMISCOE Web Directory - emilia helen melossi

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This project is an analysis of the cultural and socio-economic impacts of undocumented labour migration from Africa to Europe. The aim of the research topic is to investigate and analyze the political and economic issues that the illegal entry and stay of migrants produces on European local economies and labour standards. The case study takes into consideration the labour migration flows from Sub-Saharan African countries to Europe with Italy as the first step in the migration project towards Northern European countries.
The research topic focuses, more precisely, on seasonal Sub-Saharan African migrant labour in the agricultural sector in the South of Italy. The research project analyzes the “caporalato”, the migrant labour contracting system based on ethnic and kinship ties. The “caporalato” labour contracting system originated in the 1950s and spread throughout the Southern part of Italy among local Italian workers until it was fought back by trade unionist and slowly disappeared.
Since the 1970s however there has been an increase in migrant flows from Sub-Saharan Africa toward Italy, changing Italy’s role in the migration patterns from solely a departure country to a destination country. The increase in Italy of low-skilled African migrant labour has coincided with the re-emergence of the phenomenon of the “caporalato”, which has taken resurfaced since the 1980s, with undocumented migrants as its main target labour force, and rendering the agricultural sector in the South of Italy completely reliant on the migrant labour contracting system.
The function of the “caporalato” is to offer high numbers of temporary seasonal workers in a very short time, sometimes even just overnight. In fact, most of the migrant workers are contracted on a daily basis and will offer their labour in the early hours of the day. I will be conducting ethnographic field research in the province of Foggia in the “pista” shantytown in the outskirts of Borgo Mezzanone, in the Puglia Region, where there is a high density of migrant work force contracted in the agricultural sector.
While undergoing field research I will be investigating the legal and economic system that allows for the exploitation of the migrants’ “illegal entry and stay” status in Italy and their reasons and willingness to leave Italy and its exploitative conditions and proceed “North” in order to better their lives. I will investigate the modes of action of systemic structural undocumented migrant exploitation in Italy and the reasons behind a South-North internal European migrant flow trajectory. In fact, throughout ethnographic participant observation and interviewing processes, I will address the rhetorical construction of migrant utopias and destination countries, such as England and in particular the London area.
I believe that understanding the dynamics and limits of this system of structural illegality represents the first step in bringing about a change in the ways in which migrants enter Europe, are subsequently “allowed” to remain, and are forced to contend with myriads of constraints and impediments along the way. This type of research is fundamental for the management of migration throughout Europe.