Female slavery in the fields in Ragusa. After The Guardian’s investigation, the first convictions


Caporalato is little compared to the abomination on hundreds, perhaps thousands of women in Sicily. Deceptively lured from Romania, then subjected to violence and slavery to work in the fields. At the origin of the investigation was a report by the British newspaper The Guardian. (1)

After the arrests by the Ragusa Mobile Squad and the investigation by the District Anti-Mafia Directorate (DDA), the convictions by the Judge for Preliminary Hearing at the Court of Catania on Dec. 20, 19. (2) Absent politics, silence-press.

The trial of the loggers

Enslavement, human trafficking, exploitation of prostitution – including to the detriment of minors – and criminal conspiracy are the crimes charged against the ‘homeless’(boschetari, in Romanian) gang alone. A criminal group that enlisted women in extreme poverty in Romania, promising them the Italian dream that soon turned out to be an endless nightmare.

In the province of Ragusa, home of Sicilian fruit and vegetables, the tormentors led by 42-year-old Romanian Lucian Milea then ‘sold’ the women to local accomplices. For exploitation in the fields, sexual abuse and prostitution behind violence and threats. Victims were segregated in solitary confinement after their identity documents were taken away.

The horror had been revealed by the British newspaper The Guardian, which in 2017 reported on the trafficking of some 5,000 women. A complaint, investigation, and convictions then followed. 20 years imprisonment to ringleader Lucian Milea, 17 years and eight months and 10 years, respectively, to his accomplices Monica Iordan and Alice Oprea. (2) With a very modest provision, 10 thousand euros, in favor of the few social partners formed (5 of the victims, the Proxima association and the FLAI-CGIL).

Shameful silence

Politics and the mainstreampress , in Italy, have remained indifferent to a situation of unparalleled gravity. The constipated Ansa release on the news of the convictions was picked up by The Daily Fact, the local press, and some blogs. Nothing more. As was the case the day before, in the largest operation against the Ndrangheta that enabled Deputy Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri to make 334 arrests. (2)

And it is in fact The Guardian, once again, that reveals the details of the investigation under review. It also gathers the fiery words of Lina Trovato, the Catania deputy prosecutor who led the investigation. ‘What struck me most was that these women were not even aware of the terrible conditions in which they were forced to live. It is a typical element of these types of crimes. People do not even know that they have rights or realize that they are victims of injustice‘. (3)

Ragusa, the unpunished crimes

Numerous women had reported to The Guardian as early as 2017 that they were being forced to have sex with farm owners and their affiliates under threat of death. Of being forced to work 12-hour shifts, in extreme heat as well as out in the cold, without even minimum pay. Of being imprisoned, in fact, in degrading conditions.

The Guardian investigation also revealed a dramatic increase in abortion requests, in Sicily, from Romanian women. Who represent 4% of the female population and yet express 20% of the abortions registered in the province of Ragusa. Medical personnel told the reporters that they believed the unwanted pregnancies were related to ‘systemic sexual exploitation.’

Absent responsibility

President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella called for the assumption of ‘responsibility‘ by all Italian citizens in his #discorsoodifineanno. One is left to wonder why-beyond the shameful silence of the national press-there is still no news of an investigation against any of the approximately 5,000 agricultural entrepreneurs operating in the province of Ragusa. Although it is clear that spade and sex slaves were intended for some of them.

Thus, only one of the strands of a dense criminal network composed of thousands-and not a handful-of barbaric torturers has been severed. Moreover, a scientific study by female researchers at the University of Palermo illustrated the prevalence of these abuses in the Ragusa area as early as 2013-2014. (4) The failure of medical personnel to dutifully denounce appears, in turn, indicative of the Mafia climate and the cover-ups that this network uses.

Fugitive politics

The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates at least 50 thousand slaves in the Italian agricultural sector. The Special Rapporteur to the UN on slavery in turn estimated 400,000 migrants exposed to exploitation in camps in Italy, of whom 100,000 are forced to live in inhumane conditions. Migrants from Africa and Eastern Europe, sans papier and without rights, whose punishments are only partly mitigated by the Third Sector Entities (themselves waiting, for more than two years, for the promised reform).

To President Sergio Mattarella (Sicilian moreover), Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova (both from Puglia), and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese (from neighboring Basilicata) we ask then how is it possible that it is the international press that informs us about the slave trade in their regions? (5)

Skills and technology are not lacking. Precision agriculture may be spreading, but we persist in tolerating the most heinous of crimes against human beings, including women and children. Responsibility therefore lags primarily in those who hold the power, and the duty, to order an end to this horror. Until when?


Dario Dongo


(1) Lorenzo Tondo and Annie Kelly. Raped, beaten, exploited: the 21st-century slavery propping up Sicilian farming. The Guardian, 12.3.17, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/mar/12/slavery-sicily-farming-raped-beaten-exploited-romanian-women

(2) SEE https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2019/12/19/ndrangheta-gratteri-fuga-notizie-sapevano-dei-330-arresti-il-mega-blitz-per-smontare-la-calabria-come-i-lego-anticipato-di-24-ore/5626940/, https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2019/12/19/ndrangheta-mega-operazione-dei-carabinieri-334-arresti-il-video-degli-incontri-tra-gli-affiliati-e-le-violenze-della-cosca/5626708/

(3) Lorenzo Tondo (from Palermo) and Annie Kelly. Romanian man jailed in Italy over human trafficking ring. The Guardian, 12/30/19, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/dec/30/romanian-man-jailed-in-italy-over-human-trafficking-ring

(4) Letizia Palumbo, Alessandra Sciurba (2015). Vulnerability to Forced Labor and Trafficking: The case of Romanian women in the agricultural sector in Sicily. Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 5, 2015, pp. 89-108. doi: 10.14197/atr.20121556, www.antitraffickingreview.org

(5) Tobias Jones and Ayo Awokoya. Are your tinned tomatoes picked by slave labor? The Guardian, 6/20/19, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/20/tomatoes-italy-mafia-migrant-labour-modern-slavery