Amnesty says migrants in Italy face widespread exploitation

ROME, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Human rights group Amnesty

International condemned what it called "widespread and endemic"

exploitation of migrant workers in Italy on Monday and urged the

government to overhaul its immigration policies.

The investigation found migrant workers in the agriculture

and construction sectors in areas of southern Italy were paid 40

percent less on average than Italians doing the same job and

were often paid below the legal minimum.

In some cases workers were not paid at all or their pay was

arbitrarily withheld.

Italy has borne the brunt of irregular sea-borne migration

to southern Europe, which has risen with unrest in North Africa

and the Middle East.

Migrants, who say they are attracted by the prospect of a

better life in Europe, often risk the voyage across the

Mediterranean in overcrowded fishing boats. Thousands have died

in shipwrecks, harsh conditions at sea or a lack of food.

The Amnesty report said that stringent Italian immigration

laws, which criminalise irregular entry to the country, made

migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation because they

cannot complain to authorities for fear of arrest.

"The outcome for migrant workers is often: wages well below

the domestic minimum, arbitrary wage reductions, delays in pay

or no pay at all and long working hours," Amnesty researcher

Francesca Pizzutelli said in a statement.

"While the authorities in any country are entitled to

control immigration, they must not do so at the expense of the

human rights of all people in their territory, including migrant

workers."

The report, which noted that racism against migrants was a

problem, focused on "severe" exploitation of workers from

sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Asia in the agricultural

sector in Latina and Caserta in Italy's south.

It recommended that Italian authorities develop a way for

migrant workers to safely lodge complaints against employers.

One Indian migrant, speaking anonymously to Amnesty, said

that he had agreed to work seven days a week for about 3 euros

an hour or 700 euros a month, but that his employer had instead

been paying him just 100 euros a month for the last seven

months.

"I can't go to the police because I don't have documents:

they would take my fingerprints and I would have to leave," he

was quoted as saying in the report.

Of Italy's estimated 5.4 million foreign nationals about

half a million had no valid documentation, the report said.

(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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