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International Voices

I Tendopoli: The Tent Cities of Italy

Orange season brings thousands of seasonal migrant workers to the Calabrian coast during the winter months. The men live in intimidation from the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, and were the target of media attention in 2010 when riots broke out between the Italians and the Africans after two migrant workers were shot. This photo series follows Ibra, a man originally from Burkina Faso, who has lived in Italy since 2001 and was living in the tent city for six months when these photographs were taken, working towards his dream of making enough money to return home and provide for his family.

The men living in the tendopoli, which literally translates to “tent city,” pick tomatoes in Naples in the spring and oranges in Calabria during the winter.  In the winter months, as many as 2000 migrants live in temporary settlements along the Calabrian coast. That number shrinks to several hundred during the off-season. Some of the men, like Ibra, first traveled to larger cities in the north of Italy and slowly made their way south as job prospects for African migrants became grim. Ibra first set foot on Italian soil in Milan, and has worked in Sicily as well as Naples and Calabria. Occasionally, Ibra takes odd jobs in surrounding towns from Italians he is friendly with. The shantytown where these migrants live lies between Gioia Tauro and Rosarno, two small towns that hug Calabria’s western coast. Residents of Rosarno and the neighboring migrants entered the national Italian spotlight following the killing of two migrants by resident Italians in January 2010. Riots ensued, stirring a national dialogue concerning the treatment of seasonal African workers living in intimidation and squalor. Ibra, a six-month resident of the tendopoli, is often sought out for advice by fellow migrant workers. Fluent in Italian and well-connected in neighboring towns, Ibra helps men living in the camp obtain legal working papers and permessi di soggiorni, “permits to stay” in the country for an allotted period of months to work. He also coordinates the local branch of Caritas, a worldwide Catholic charity aimed at mitigating poverty, serving food to the residents of the tendopoli twice a week. Italy, like all of Europe, is saturated with the same anti-immigrant rhetoric that has fueled the election of far-right leaders across a swath of nations. The future of Ibra, and seasonal migrant workers like him, will be determined by what steps these nations take in restricting their borders, and the official response to informally tolerated discrimination.

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