Indian migrants say Italy needs them

 Protesters against the Italian Interior minister and deputy prime minister clash with riot police in downtown Naples. (AFP File Photo)

Indian migrants working near Rome say Italy's far-right politicians may talk about curbing immigration but they say the European nation cannot manage without their cheap labor.

"Politicians, in order to win votes, keep saying things like, 'We Italians', 'Italians first', 'Our people'," said Gurmukh Singh, 47, head of the Indian Community Association.

"If our people go away if everyone goes back to India, can the Italians work in these fields being paid 4 euros, 3.50 or 2.90 euros?" he said. "There is certainly enough work to go around in Italy."

The far-right League, led by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, is expected to emerge as Italy's leading party in Sunday's European parliamentary election, campaigning under the slogan "Italy First".

Salvini has promised to deport more illegal migrants from Italy, where many migrants have landed by boat from North Africa. He has often blamed immigrants for criminal activities.

Rights groups accuse Salvini of fanning racism and intolerance. They question threats to enact mass deportations, saying he has not done so during his first 12 months in office.

As many as 30,000 Indians, mostly Sikhs from India's Punjab state, live in the Pontine Marshes region, where agriculture expanded after the area was drained in the 1930s.

Some of the workers do not have official documentation, members of the community say.

Many of the workers cycle long distances from cramped accommodation to pick fruit and vegetables for up to 13 hours a day, earning between three and five euros ($3.30-$5.50) an hour, well below the industry's minimum wage of about eight euros.

Groups of laborers are often overseen at work by other members of the Sikh community.

Marco Omizzolo, who works for research institute Eurispes and migrant rights group In Migrazione said the migrants have little legal protection and have suffered physical abuse.

Association head Singh said he had helped the workers organise a strike and protest for better pay in the past three years. He also said he hoped anti-migrant sentiment would wane.

"With sacrifices, you can move forward," he said.

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