The cheap labour behind the juicy business of Greek “red gold” - VoxEurop

A budget labour behind the juicy enterprise of Greek “crimson gold” – VoxEurop

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The outlets alongside the primary street of Lappa, a small village within the northwestern Peloponnese, differ from the outlets you’d discover in different provincial areas in Greece. The indicators on the few outlets − cafes, souvlaki joints, bakeries − written in Greek, intermingle with different store indicators in Bengali. The store homeowners, who’re from Bangladesh, are nicely conscious of the wants of their shoppers: the group of hundreds of their fellow migrant land staff, who reside within the space and work within the strawberry fields.

There are folks, in all areas of Greece, who worry that native populations will turn into “distorted” by the arrival of refugees and immigrants. There’s one space, nonetheless, the place this “distortion” has already occurred, however it’s a welcome change and for years it has turn into a obligatory one. This space is Manolada, within the Peloponnese.

“Manolada” refers back to the broader space within the prefecture of Ilia within the Peloponnese, about 40 kilometers west of Patras, which incorporates the villages of Manolada, Nea Manolada, Neo Vouprasio, Lappa, and Varda. The latest census in Greece passed off in 2011. At the moment, Manolada had a inhabitants of 844, Lappas 1,000, and Neo Vouprasio 128. However the precise variety of folks residing within the space is way larger.

As we drive alongside the street that connects the villages, we arrive at Nea Manolada. Though it’s Sunday morning, there’s not a lot attendance on the church within the heart of the village, fairly all of the exercise is exterior the neighboring betting store, the place a bunch of males of Indian descent are gathered, with betting slips of their fingers.

Subsequent to the Greek outlets, the deserted village homes and the two-story dwellings with massive yards – a group has developed, individuals who reside in dilapidated farmhouses and makeshift camps, well-hidden from the primary streets.They principally reside with out papers, undocumented, invisible to the Greek state. Like Ali.

Manolada’s “crimson gold”

Though his gentle voice, facial options and physique sort counsel that he could also be a lot youthful, Ali tells Solomon that he’s 17 years outdated. In 2004, when he was born, strawberries in Manolada had been among the many many merchandise cultivated within the space and there have been 1,200 stremmata (approx. 300 acres) of strawberry fields.

The explanation {the teenager} from Bangladesh and as much as 10,000 migrant staff have come to the realm is that in previous many years, strawberry manufacturing has elevated quickly. In 2012, it lined 12,000 stremmata (approx. 3,000 acres) and is at present estimated to have exceeded 15,000 stremmata (approx. 3,750 acres).

 Bangladeshis are less expensive than their Balkan predecessors, as they’re content material with a each day wage of €24 for a seven-hour workday, in comparison with €35-€40 for different nationalities. Photograph: © Theodore Nikolaou

Manolada is host to greater than 90 p.c of the overall strawberry manufacturing in Greece, which is sort of totally out there for export. In a latest report, one of many main producers within the area, Giannis Arvanitakis, refers to an “solely exportable product” including that “solely 4% of manufacturing” is slated for the Greek market.

“Pink gold” – the time period coined by the Greek prime minister on the time, George Papandreou − refers to an business value tens of thousands and thousands of euros which is continually rising. Based on the Union of Fruit & Produce Exporters, yearly the area’s strawberry exports break the report of the earlier 12 months.

In 2020, regardless of the pandemic, when producers had been compelled to discard a part of their product, because it couldn’t be exported, strawberry exports generated 54,967 tons (value €71.7 million), which was a rise from 2019, at 45,178 tons (€55.4 million). In 2021, “Pink gold” manufacturing and exports are anticipated to exceed that of 2020. And producers estimate that by 2025, ​​strawberry fields within the space will cowl 25,000 stremmata (approx. 6,200 acres). 

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 Based on the Union of Fruit & Produce Exporters, yearly the area’s strawberry exports break the report of the earlier 12 months. Photograph: © Theodore Nikolaou

Greek strawberries by Bangladeshi staff

It’s estimated that the explanation for the success of the strawberry business is the dam on the Pineios River, which makes the soil of Manolada so fertile. One other key part is a budget labor.

Till about 15 years in the past, in Manolada, the labor pressure consisted of Albanian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Egyptian land staff. Since then, whereas a small variety of principally Bulgarians and Romanians nonetheless arrive at the start of every season, the overwhelming majority of land staff are Bangladeshis and to a lesser extent, Pakistanis. Bangladeshis are less expensive than their Balkan predecessors, as they’re content material with a each day wage of €24 for a seven-hour workday, in comparison with €35-€40 for different nationalities.

The connection that has been established between the strawberry manufacturing and the labor pressure that ensures it, has turn into so well-connected that almost all of Bangladeshi land staff in Manolada come from the identical metropolis, Sylhet, which is positioned in northeastern Bangladesh. In recent times, Solomon has visited Manolada a number of instances, and has lined, amongst different subjects, the challenges that hundreds of land staff confronted through the pandemic.

Throughout our visits, we found the existence of “second technology” land staff. For instance, younger males who got here to Manolada to hitch their fathers who’ve been working within the area for years, or folks like Ali who got here to seek out his uncle, after he informed him that “there’s work to be discovered right here” (however Ali didn’t meet him in spite of everything, because the uncle moved on to Italy).

The strawberry business employs each extremely expert land staff, who might have greater than ten years of expertise, in addition to newcomers who head to Manolada as quickly as they cross the border. The season begins on the finish of September and ends in late June. At its peak, after December, it’s estimated that as much as 9,000 land staff work six days every week within the greenhouses. The housing situations through which most of them reside aren’t any completely different than the greenhouses that encompass them..

The camps of Manolada

The camps are scattered amongst huge strawberry fields. They include a few dozen makeshift shelters – referred to as “parages”, “shacks” in greek –  constructed utilizing reeds for the bottom and body. The “partitions” are made with the identical plastic sheets (used for the greenhouses), bolstered with blankets. Within the camp we visited, greater than 100 folks had been residing in dozens of makeshift shelters. Most sleep on pallets, in two rows on both facet of the house. With so many individuals residing in such a small house, it’s unattainable to observe social distancing guidelines. Within the spring, the warmth contained in the shacks is stifling, and the followers, spin 24/7.

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A makeshift kitchen in a camp, constructed with tin and wooden. Photograph: © Theodore Nikolaou

In most elements of the camp, the scent is suffocating, as the bathroom is a gap within the floor. There isn’t any working water and people who reside within the camp should wash outdoor; thus in winter they’re usually sick, and if unable to work, they don’t obtain their each day wages. Two stalls act as kitchens and there are 4 water tanks sheltered beneath a cover. There’s a makeshift mosque, the place a few of the staff go every afternoon after work, in clear garments, to hope.

The mandatory system of “masturs

Kasef has been in Greece for a 12 months. He crossed the Greek-Turkish border on the Evros River, and as he traveled inland, he was caught by the authorities and detained for 15 days at a police station. He was then held for 3 months in Drama, on the Pre-Elimination Detention Heart of Paranesti.

He has acquired a letter urging him to go away the nation inside a month and has utilized for asylum. Kasef says he has been carrying the identical pants since he arrived within the nation and complains that as a result of he’s Pakistani, he receives much less pay than the others.

“There’s little or no work,” he says. If Kasef was in Greece a couple of many years in the past, he would’ve spent his days wandering the fields asking for work. If he was in a northern European nation, he might need turned to an employment company. However not in Manolada. Right here, land staff don’t have a robust tie to their employers − they usually don’t even know their employer’s full title, maybe solely their first title, if it’s even their precise title. Land staff in Manolada fairly construct relationships with the masturs, who act as mediators between staff and producers, and within the camps the place the employees reside.

The masturs or commanda are their compatriots. Normally, they’re individuals who’ve been residing in Manolada for years, who began out as land staff, can communicate some Greek, and have gained the belief of the producers. They now not work within the fields. Throughout the day, they are often discovered on the village mini-markets sipping vitality drinks or ordering provides for the camp, that are bought on credit score and at all times paid in full on the finish of every month.

“It simply can’t be executed with out the mastur

The masturs preserve shut ties with native producers. When the season is over, they don’t journey to different areas like the opposite staff, however they continue to be in Manolada to assist with different work. A small producer within the space, who agreed to talk to Solomon on the situation of anonymity, said that the mastur is essential for the operation of the business, “with out the mastur it simply can’t be executed,” he stated.


The mastur is given all the staff’ wages and on the finish of the month he distributes the cash to them, holding €1 per day of the €24 per day which every individual receives.


He employs about 20 land staff in his fields, and he’s unable to coordinate and talk with them on his personal. He merely tells the mastur how many individuals he wants, and the mastur takes care of the remaining – he goes to the camp and gathers the wanted staff.

The mastur is given all the staff’ wages and on the finish of the month he distributes the cash to them, holding €1 per day of the €24 per day which every individual receives. Nonetheless, lately some mastur in Manolada ask their compatriots for €100-€200 at the start of the season to seek out them a job, inflicting their indignation. This can be very uncommon for land staff residing in the identical camp to work for a similar employer. Throughout the season, relying on the wants and the out there each day wages, they are often employed by multiple producer − at all times by the mediation of the mastur.

€40 lease for a plastic tent

The land staff are obliged to pay €30-€40 per 30 days in lease to the mastur, cash that normally goes to the proprietor of the sphere. Nonetheless, after we informed the small producer who spoke to us that each migrant residing within the camp on his discipline is paying lease each month, he replied that he has not acquired any cost for this.

“Allow them to simply give me cash to cowl the electrical energy invoice and I don’t need anything,” he stated.

For the homeowners of fields, the place as much as 100 individuals are housed in camps, there’s a tax-free month-to-month revenue of €3,000. We visited a farm home the place there have been a complete of 65 folks residing in a shared widespread house. The residents there pay €30-€40 every per 30 days − a complete of about €2,000 per 30 days for residing in horrible situations.

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 Within the camps, the employees sleep in dozens of shacks. Photograph: © Theodore Nikolaou

The residing and dealing situations within the space first grew to become broadly identified in 2007, when a fireplace in a camp broke out, exposing the crudely-built constructions. However the occasion that introduced worldwide consideration to the scenario in Manolada occurred in 2013.

In April of that 12 months, about 150 Bangladeshi staff, who had been employed within the strawberry fields, went on strike and demanded they be paid their again wages. Their employer, Nikos Vangelatos, who had been within the space for a couple of years however owned a major proportion of the overall manufacturing by contract farming, refused to pay them.

When an try was made by the employer to rent different land staff to exchange them, 150 of the unpaid migrant staff gathered to protest. Their supervisors initially fled, solely to return with shotguns. One of many supervisors opened hearth, injuring 30 Bangladeshis.

The incident made worldwide headlines, and studies described the business in Manolada as “blood strawberries”. A global boycott adopted. Since then, the strawberries cultivated within the space are now not promoted as being from “Manolada” (which was once a mark of a top quality product) however fairly from “Ilia” (the prefecture the place Manolada is positioned).

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Subsequent to the strawberry fields, as much as 10,000 land staff from Bangladesh and Pakistan are housed in makeshift camps, residing in substandard situations. Photograph: © Theodore Nikolaou

The absence of the state

On 30 April 2013, within the aftermath of the assault on land staff, the Regional Council of Western Greece referred to as for a state investigation. The Deputy Regional Head of the Ilia Prefecture Haralambos Kafiras offered  “three important situations for restoring legislation and human dignity to the area”: issuing correct documentation to immigrants, creating protected and hygienic residing situations, and defending the employees’ labor and particular person rights.

Vassilis Kerasiotis is the lawyer who represented the injured land staff. In 2017, the case was heard within the European Courtroom of Human Rights (ECHR), and the accused supervisor was condemned, in 2019, to a lowered sentence of eight years imprisonment, which may be paid off at €5 per day. Kerasiotis nonetheless maintains sturdy ties with the area. We requested him if he thinks issues have modified when it comes to the three important situations, within the eight years because the incident occurred.

“These three important situations are interrelated. Clearly, the primary subject is to manage their employment standing, in a framework of authorized seasonal migrant land staff. The rights of authorized immigrants are extra simply protected than those that are undocumented,” he informed Solomon.

“Nonetheless, it will create a extra clear system, with out utilizing mediators within the recruitment of land staff wanted for agricultural manufacturing.” Following the choice of the ECHR, which issued a judgement in opposition to Greece for violation of the prohibition of human trafficking and compelled labor within the agricultural sector, the Greek state was obliged to conform and guarantee respectable residing situations for the hundreds of migrant land staff.

It’s both Manolada or a detention heart

For almost all of Bangladeshis in Manolada, the truth may be very completely different in relation to what the traffickers had promised them earlier than they arrived in Greece: most nonetheless lack the papers they had been promised, the wages are considerably decrease, and lots of intend solely to remain right here till they resolve what their subsequent step will probably be.

Typically, those that get papers depart the realm; some open their very own store in a metropolis or work as dishwashers in eating places. Nonetheless, till they get their papers, within the meantime they like to stay right here, the place they know that the police − who’re tolerant of the employees who make sure the area’s manufacturing of “crimson gold” − is not going to hassle them.

They could not know a lot about Greece, however they know that if they’re caught by police someplace exterior of the Manolada space, they could find yourself in a Pre-Departure Detention Heart they usually know they might be held there for as much as 18 months.

The 65 Bangladeshis we met who had been sharing the small farmhouse, confirmed us movies on their telephones of such a detention heart in Corinth, of the rebellion that adopted the suicide of a Kurdish detainee final March.

Within the video, younger males may be seen shouting on the guards, from behind the barbed wire that restricts their lives for infinite months. The Bangladeshis inform us, “No, it’s higher right here.”

👉 Authentic article on Solomon.


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