‘The Invisibles’: Unseen footage of Italy’s migrant labourers at peak of COVID-19

By The Africa Report

Posted on Friday, 3 July 2020 15:55, updated on Tuesday, 7 July 2020 12:18
Still from 'The Invisibles'

“Social distancing is a privilege here…people are packed together….there is no access to healthcare from the state.”

Those are the words of Aboubakar Soumahoro, an Ivorian living in Italy whose work as a union leader to fight for the rights of over 200,000 migrant labourers – mostly from Africa – has garnered him much attention.

READ MORE Aboubakar Soumahoro, the Ivorian trade unionist shaking up Italy

In an exclusive documentary produced and distributed by Doha Debates, acclaimed Italian filmmakers Carola Mamberto  and Diana Ferrero capture Soumahoro’s fight along with the conditions the workers deal with on a daily basis at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The never-before-seen footage shows these migrant workers without access to food, healthcare or sanitation at the peak of the pandemic, residing in of one of Europe’s wealthiest nations.

“Essential overnight”

After being exploited for years, the global pandemic made these workers “essential” overnight — but without labour rights or even access to basic sanitation, these farm workers are living and working in conditions that have been described as modern slavery.

Still from 'The Invisibles'
Still from ‘The Invisibles’

As Italy entered its lockdown in March, imposing measures of social distancing, minimal outings and staying at home, Soumahoro describes how these workers were left behind to fend for themselves, with no access to potable water and ultimately no social distancing.

Throughout the Italian and other European lockdowns, access to fresh produce remained viable thanks to the efforts of many of these workers, who continued to work, despite the risks and despite no help from the government.

“People need to know the exhaustion, the sweat, the exploitation, that’s often behind every bite of food that comes from these fields. Without dignity and rights, that food is rotten,” says Soumahoro.

The union leader came to Italy in 1999, to work as a day labourer, referred to as ‘pair of arms’ or ‘bracciante’ in Italian. He himself knows all too well the conditions these workers continue to face, particularly in a country that has become increasingly intolerant of migrants.

Soumahoro, met Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in June in an effort to secure rights for the nation’s undocumented workers.

“We’re incredibly proud to release this film which tells the story of an unseen group of vitally important people, Europe’s migrant laborers. ‘The Invisible’s contains some of the only footage showing these individuals persevering through the COVID-19 pandemic but still urgently needing access to better social support and healthcare,”Amjad Atallah, the head of Doha Debates, and former Al-Jazeera America editor-in-chief, told The Africa Report.

Doha Debates is a group that engages people from around the world in conversations about global challenges, through a series of award-winning short films, podcasts, debates and videos.  The Doha Debates were re-launched in 2018.

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