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The Ombudsman took note ex-officio regarding the exploitation and sexual aggression of Romanian women în Italy

The Ombudsman took note ex-officio and will start the demarches with the Italian authorities in respect to the pieces of information regarding the exploitation and sexual aggression which thousands of women are submitted to, who work in Sicily, Italy, Spokesman of the institution Matei Virtosu announced in a press release sent on Tuesday. 

Virtosu revealed that the weekly British publication The Observer published on 12 March an article in which it alleges that thousands of Romanian women who work on farms are suffering many abuses on farms in the Italian province of Ragusa in Sicily, including threats and sexual aggressions, things that occur in an almost total impunity. 

According to the Italian organization Proxyma Association, that defends the rights of immigrations, which was quoted in the press publication, more than a half of Romanian women who are working on farms of that area are forced to have sexual relations with their employers, and almost all of them are working in conditions of forced labour and severe exploitation.

Minister for Romanians Abroad Andreea Pastarnac told a debate held by the Romanian Senate's Committee on Romanians Everywhere on the situation of Romanian workers in southern Italy that she will leave for Italy on a joint mission with Romania's Interior Ministry (MAI) to discuss with local authorities in an attempt to find solutions to the issues facing those Romanians. 

"On Romanian prime minister's order, we will leave on a joint mission to Catania and Ragusa tomorrow with officials of the Interior Ministry for discussions at the scene in an attempt to find immediate solutions to the aspects revealed," said Pastarnac. 

She added that, besides immediate solutions, for which she said she has already started discussions with Italian authorities, she will follow a medium-term plan she unveiled to the parliamentary committees. 

"We are trying to increase consular assistance in the areas of interior affairs and the fight against human trafficking so that we may provide the victims with an overview of measurers at our disposal, while at the same time continuing to intensify information campaigns to prevent such occurrences. This is a joint mission of the Ministry for Romanians Abroad, the Interior Ministry and the Labour Ministry; without this joint mechanism and alongside our colleagues form the Foreign Ministry (MAE) we will not be able to find the adequate solution," said Pastarnac. 

She went on to say that details about intermediaries of human trafficking are found in an inquiry already started by Italian authorities jointly with Romanian counterparts. 

As for the involvement of the Romanian Government in solving the issues facing Romanian workers in southern Italy, Pastarnac mentioned that there is a protocol that has activated and under it actions are ongoing now. 

"This is part of our dialogue; there is already legislation Europewide and we want to see what the best suited bilateral mechanisms to apply for the cases in Sicily and Calabria are," said Pastarnac. 

She added that she will also have talks with prefect of Catania and Ragusa, and meet officials of the Interior Ministry and Romanian associations, mentioning that she will also pay fact-finding visits for potential meetings with the affected workers. 

The issues facing Romanian workers in southern Italy were detailed by Emilia Spurcaciu, official of the National Confederal Assistance Institute - INCA Romania, part of the CGIL, Italy's largest trade union confederation. 

"The people lack self-confidence as well as confidence in institutions, and an important aspect is the absence of information, right illiteracy; they are not aware that they are EU citizens and that they have rights, which harms us helping them. We are talking about people who are very vulnerable, who depend on employers, they are exploited and they are afraid of reporting and who many times are left without identity papers," said Spurcaciu. 

She added that generalisations about this negative phenomenon should be avoided because not all Romanians in Italy are exploited. 

"We are talking about 1,151,000 Romanians in Italy. I have come up to show the lay of the land, particularly in Sicily, where here are exploitation cases, illegal employment intermediary and abuses - even sexual abuses, something close to slavery. There are about 50,000 Romanians with a residence in Sicily. These are people who have registered their presence there. Unfortunately, I have no hard figures for the exploited ones, because very many do no register their presence and are considered invisible," added Spurcaciu. 

She went on to say that Italy has legal instruments to fight against such phenomena, but they have to be implemented. 

"There are two important institutions currently in Italy: Law 199 against caporalatos, or undeclared employment and labour exploitation. At the same time, we have an experimental protocol in five regions that unfortunately adhere to such practices, including Sicily, and that important thing is for the instruments to be applied," said Spurcaciu. 

She urged the MPs to cooperate more with Italian institutions, saying that necessary solutions can be found when there is cooperation and more institutional players from Italy and Romania staying at the same table. 

In her turn, Chair of the Association of Romanian Women from Italy Silvia Dumitrache said governmental intervention is needed. 

"On the other hand, I sincerely believe that actual result can be achieved only by conducting national information and prevention campaigns. The phenomenon has been going on from 2008. There are 50,000 in Sicily alone. (...) They are working illegally. If they inform, some of the consequences is their families in Romania get threatened," said Dumitrache. 

Also attending the debate were Director General with the MAE Consular Department Bogdan Stanescu, who mentioned the information campaign conducted to warn Romanians leaving to work abroad about the risks they run by doing so.