Vatican deplores deadly blaze at migrant camp

Vatican City, March 3 (IANS/AKI) The Vatican on Friday attacked the exploitation of agricultural workers, which it blamed for the deadly fire that killed two Africans and gutted an asylum-seeker camp in southern Italy.

“The death of two immigrants shines a spotlight on the terrible scourge of the gang-master system and its human and social ill-effects,” Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said.

The editorial referred to the deaths on Friday of two migrant agricultural labourers believed to be from Mali who were killed in a massive blaze that gutted the sprawling camp at San Severo in the Puglia region.

“The camp that went up in flames, known as the Big Ghetto, in the summer months housed more than 3,000 exploited migrant tomato-pickers in squalid conditions,” the Vatican daily said.

Friday’s blaze came after Italian police on Wednesday began evicting residents from the camp on the orders of local prosecutors after a probe alleged it had been infiltrated by organised crime.

But several hundred migrants had refused to leave and it was not immediately clear if the fire was accidental or arson, according to police, who had been guarding the camp.

“The migrants were agricultural workers who feared losing their jobs if they left the camp,” L’Osservatore Romano said.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire reportedly spread in minutes through the camp’s cardboard, wood, and plastic shacks. The blaze caused several canisters of gas used for heating and cooking in the camp to explode.

“The dynamics of events have yet to be established,” L’Osservatore Romano said.

Catholic charity Communita di St’Egidio described the deaths of the two migrants as “an unacceptable tragedy”. With the summer season coming and the arrival of more seasonal agricultural labourers, the charity urged the government to provide all such workers with safe accommodation.

–IANS/AKI

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