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I Am a Migrant and I Work in Rome

A stall selling regional food specialties on a Piazza in Rome. Credit: Jordan McCord

ROME, Mar 2 2018 (IPS) - – Mika, age 35, arrived in Italy five years ago from Bangladesh, and actually came to Rome on a flight in search of work for a better life. He now works alongside other Romans in the outdoor food market in Piazza San Cosimato in Trastevere, selling food products, such as pasta, olive oil, spices and after dinner liquors, mostly from southern Italy. He is well versed in their ingredients, origins in Puglia and preparation process. He is there every day and feels good about the life he has created here.

Migrants from Bangladesh are on nearly on every corner in the center of Rome. They work in alimentari (small grocery shops), trinket shops, restaurants or in outdoor markets like Mika does. Some walk around the city selling hand held gadgets, umbrellas or jewelry. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the stabilization of the Bangladeshi population is ongoing and as of 2016, nearly 54 percent of the 142,403 Bangladeshi migrants in the country hold EU long term residence permits.

“Although my name is Mika, in Italy my name is Michele,” he says, adding “ I am a migrant and I work in Rome”. He attended Italian language school when he first arrived and lives near the Piazza with several other workers from Bangladesh in a three-bedroom apartment.

One stall away is one of his compatriots who is still learning Italian. His Roman co-worker corrects his grammar as he loads mandarins into a basket. They take turns serving customers from all angles of the open stall as the market fills up during its late morning rush.

“There is no work for me in Bangladesh, but here there is,” Mika says.

Uddin, 33 has found it too, at a Korean restaurant near Piazza Vittorio where he works six days a week. He has been in Rome for nearly four years and hopes to move his wife and two young children here from Comilla, Bangladesh, within the next few years. He manages to put aside about 500 euros per month from the money he earns at his job to send to them at the end of each month.

“I came to Italy for a better future and I plan to stay,” he said.

Before relocating to Rome, Uddin lived in South Korea where he studied, and then in England where he worked for a short time. He recently obtained his stay permit in Italy.

The communities of these migrants are especially tightly knit at the outdoor market in one of the most vibrant and historically important areas of the city, Campo de Fiori square. Some migrants work for other Italians, managing the stalls for them.

Known as ‘angels’, the migrants from Bangladesh spring to action to protect Romans from the first drops of rain. Credit: Jordan McCord

Many mentioned having tight working relationships with the Italian owners who entrust them with a great deal of responsibility in running their business. This is a well-known characteristic of Italian culture, the importance of interpersonal relationships in work life. This interdependence between migrants and Italians favors both parties and might not prove as easy to find in other European cultures.

Here, Romano, also from Bangladesh, has lived in Rome for 19 years. Now in his fifties, he runs his own stall where he sells Italian food products that arrive from Milan and Torino. He has studied these products meticulously over the years which has been the key to his success.

Romano lives just outside of the Italian capital and likes the day to day life in the city.
“I like Italy, especially Rome, not so much for the history but for its culture, habits and its people. Life and the people in Rome are just fine” he says.

Being here for nearly two decades, he is able to follow the Italian model in entrusting another close friend to work for him, Jewel, 30. He arrived in Rome just two years ago and works at Romano’s stall, pouring samples of oils and liquors for tourists to taste. His daily work and interaction with customers is steadily improving his knowledge of the Italian language and his expertise on the products he sells.

Jewel came to Italy alone from the town of Brahmanbaria in eastern Bangladesh. His parents as well as sister and brother are still living there. Working at the market he earns 35 euros per day, six days a week.

Many migrants from Bangladesh also take on unusual working shifts that wouldn’t normally attract Italian workers. These migrants occupy shifts on Sundays or throughout the whole month of August when locals go on vacation for the Italian holiday of Ferragosto.

Arif, who arrived in Rome six years ago works in a tourist shop in the centre of the city, Trastevere. The shop sells postcards, figurines and other trinkets. Although he claims to earn less than seven euros an hour, which is the standard minimum salary determined by unions in Italy, he works daily just to keep an income coming to him.

“I felt very good and happy when I arrived in Rome, he said. “I always see the light in the city, along the streets which is different than in my country. Even if there is chaos with trams, buses and traffic, I always see the light.”

He doesn’t have any family back in Bangladesh and plans to continue building his life here. He lives with several roommates nearby in an apartment in the Monteverde area.

While Arif is an employee in the shop, just down the street, Tanzil owns a stall that sells Italian and Roman items. His parents helped him to purchase the stall nearly 20 years ago where they now sell items like handbags and t-shirts, marketing these in areas with a lot of pedestrians like Via Lungaretta in Trastevere.

Like Tanzil, long term residence in Italy have helped other migrants to be independent of their Italian employers and facilitated intra-EU mobility (IOM) which is a bonus that these migrants seek.

“We are open every day until about 10p.m., even on Sundays,” he said. “I’ve been here since I was little, so now Rome is my home.”

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