An African migrant field worker works in Puglia, Italy during the tomato harvest. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

In August of this year another wave of African immigrants washed up at the Portopalo di capo Passero in Sicily, Italy. The summer has become known as ‘boating season’ in Italy. Migrants made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean via shoddy life rafts from Tripoli, Libya, hoping to escape the ravages of war and poverty. This year saw a disturbingly high number of migrants die at sea after their rafts capsized or were wrecked. Over the years, those migrants who survived and made it to Italy either used the country as a temporary thoroughfare while they funneled through to other countries, or stayed illegally; many found themselves in small, rural regions, such as Basilicata, Calabria and Puglia working as field workers. They migrated from east to west, north to south for several months throughout the year following the seasons and their various harvests. But what of their day-to-day existence?

According to the National Institute of Agricultural Economics (INEA) there are 102,000 people employed as workers in the agricultural sector, not including those who are illegal. Photographer Alessandro Penso first took an interest in documenting African migrants in Italy after the Rosarno revolts in the winter of 2010. A riot broke out after 100 African crop workers protested the motiveless shooting of two African crop workers living in the small Italian town. In the ensuing days, a massive wave of what could be described as ethnic cleansing took place as all of the workers either fled, were forced out, or were deported if found to be there illegally. After they were gone, the Calabrian citrus industry saw a decline in sales. With no one around to pick the coveted fruit — the mandarin orange — the fruit began rotting on the vine. Across the nation people were outraged to learn that the citrus fruit was being harvested by what was essentially slave labor.

Penso had a sense that Rosarno was not an isolated case. What of the tomato? Who was harvesting that? He set out tracking various other fruit and vegetable harvests across the country to see which hands they led to in his essay “Migrant Workers Journey.” He discovered more African migrants working 12-hour days in sweltering heat, earning little more than 25 euros a day. Penso’s beautiful series shows the experience that migrants face, living together in tight, cramped spaces, often with no running water and little to no modern equipment.

All photos by Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture


Portrait of seasonal worker Yousuf Bande from Burkina Faso. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Puglia. Tomato harvest. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

A shelter for harvest workers near Foggia in Puglia. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Mandarin harvest in Rosarno, Italy. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

A worker taking water supplies in the Basilicata region of Italy. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

The seasonal worker’s shelter after the harvest is over, Basilicata. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

A seasonal worker’s injured foot in Basilicata. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Workers during a moment of rest after work in Puglia. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Workers arranging their water supplies in Basilicata. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Seasonal workers praying in the field. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Workers trying to light a fire in Basilicata. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Slaughter of a sheep in Basilicata. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Hair cut during a brief moment of rest. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Workers outside the abandoned house in Basilicata.Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

Sare after putting out a fire near their shelter in Basilicata. Alessandro Penso/OnOff Picture

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