Le Soir: 12 hours of work without a break for 30 euros

Le Soir: 12 hours of work without a break for 30 euros

Article in Le Soir by Lorraine Kihl (26/10/2016)


The fate of unaccompanied minors from Egypt used as cheap labour is cause for concern.

If the worry about unaccompanied minors in Italy is increasing, it’s because the numbers are distressing. The number who have arrived already greatly exceeds the total for 2015. The share of unaccompanied minors among the total number of migrants has almost doubled in a year, going from 8 to 15%.

An anomaly among anomalies: Egyptians. In 2015, two thirds of Egyptian migrants were unaccompanied minors. Field workers denounce a vast network that exploits children as cheap labour.

“Egyptian minors leave the system to re-enter it better: they leave their centre, go up to Rome, Turin, where there are established communities, then approach police and enter a new reception centre”, relates Michele Prosperi of Save the Children. Like Amr, 18 years old today, who has been living in Rome for a year. He dreams of a less “hectic” job in his future. Hectic? “I worked in a car wash for a while. 12 hours of work in full sun and without a break for 30 euros. It was horrible.” According to the youth workers of Civico Zero, the day centre he attends, he’s actually rather lucky. At markets, also run by Egyptians, a day’s pay for minors does not exceed 10 euros.

It’s a well-run operation, explains Marco Cappuccino, the coordinator for the Civico Zero network. “Before, families would sacrifice something of value to come up with the sum allowing their child to cross the Mediterranean. But now, more and more, they go into debt directly with the people smugglers.” The contract implies that reimbursement begins from the moment the child indicates that he is safely in Italy. “The people smugglers then put pressure on the family to collect what they are owed. That’s why minors are so desperate to work, yet it’s completely incompatible with the system.”

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 15% of Egyptian minors who arrived in Italy in 2015 already had a “job” waiting for them before they even landed.

“They now go directly to Sicily to find children when a spot opens here”, laments David, a social worker from Turin. For two years, he has watched helplessly as children are exploited in markets, kebabs shops and even industry. “And when they become adults and need an employment contract to stay in Italy, no problem, but they have to pay for it.”

“Egyptian minors have started showing up in drug trafficking convictions, notes a street youth worker from Turin. That may be an indicator that they are also turning up in this market.”

For associations, as for the authorities, dealing with this phenomenon is extremely difficult. First, because even if young people are trusting enough to talk, no one is ready to take the risk of being an informant and, second, because the migrant intake and integration system is not designed to deal with the indebtedness problem of young people and their families (a crossing from Egypt costs between 3,000 and 5,000 dollars, according to the IOM). And any action of this type risks encouraging people smugglers.