Slave workers in Italy freed by police

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A joint Italian and Polish police operation freed 113 Polish workers who were living in forced labor camps on a tomato farm in southern Italy. Twenty people were arrested on charges of human trafficking, and the police are on the look-out for seven more.

The police said that the freed victims were made to work "like slaves". They were subject to rape and torture and had dogs set upon them by armed Ukrainian, Italian and Polish guards who watched over them, said Poland's national police chief, Marek Bienkowski, speaking at a news conference in Warsaw.

The deaths of four victims in the camps are believed to be suicides and are being investigated. Police have not ruled out the possibility that more deaths have occurred in the camps.

The victims were forced to work for 15 hours a day and were fed little more than bread and water, Italian police said. "To call the situation revealed by the Carabinieri investigation simply inhuman does in no way do it justice," said Italy's anti-Mafia chief, Piero Grasso, speaking to reporters in the southern city of Bari.

300 people who managed to flee the camps are being interviewed. Up to 1000 are believed to have been victims of this crime, according to the Polish news agency PAP. The workers were reportedly recruited through ads in Polish newspapers promising agricultural work in Italy.