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Bordering the surplus population across the Mediterranean: Imperialism and unfree labour in Libya and the Italian countryside

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Lucia Pradella, Rossana Cillo

Original languageEnglish
Published13 Jul 2020


  • GEOFORUM June 2020

    GEOFORUM_June_2020_.docx, 133 KB, application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document

    Uploaded date:28 Jul 2020

    Version:Submitted manuscript

King's Authors


In spite of much emphasis on a “migration crisis” and studies on the “refugeeization” of the agricultural workforce in Italy, there is still little research on the impact of the NATO war on Libya and the militarization of EU borders in the Mediterranean on the development of labour exploitation and unfree labour in the sector. Focusing on the period between the 2007/8 global economic crisis, the 2011 uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, until 2018, this article analyses the links between the system of neo-colonial extraction of Libyan resources that imposed itself after the war and the expansion of the reserve army of labour of Italian capital. We show that the militarization of EU borders further empowered militias involved in fuel, weapon and human smuggling, boosting a brutal system of detention, extortion and forced labour that both traps immigrants in Libya and pushes them towards Europe. Agri-business and retail corporations operating in Italy have benefitted from the continuing importation of energy and of vulnerable workers from Libya. The substitution of workers with immigrants with a status of asylum-seekers helps explain the diffusion of unfree labour in Italian agriculture over the last ten years. But immigrants’ experiences in Libya have also encouraged them to mobilize and reclaim their collective rights.

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