Aboubakar Soumahoro was elected into Italy's lower chamber of Parliament on 25 September/Photo: Aboubakar Soumahoro/Facebook

African refugee activist becomes national political star in Italy

The activist Aboubakar Soumahoro was elected into Italy’s lower chamber of Parliament on 25 September. He has dedicated his work to fighting for migrants and workers who are exploited in the fields, namely those who are often regarded as “invisible”.

“Our shared dream reaches Parliament.” With this phrase, Aboubakar Soumahoro celebrated his election into the Italian Chamber of Deputies on Sunday, 25 September.

Soumahoro is Italian-Ivorian and fights for the rights of those who are “invisible” and forgotten: migrants and exploited fieldworkers. People who are left no choice but to live in shantytowns without sanitary services and without any rights.

He ran as part of the Green and Left alliance. He was surprisingly not elected in the single-member constituency of the city of Modena, which was considered to be a ‘sure win’ for the center-left. He was elected as top candidate for the multi-member constituencies of Emilia Romagna, Puglia, Veneto and Lombardy.

In Italy since age 19, Union activist for many years

Born in 1980 on the Ivory Coast, Soumahoro arrived in Italy when he was 19 years old. He earned a degree in Sociology at the University ‘Federico II’ of Naples, with the highest possible mark. His empirical thesis was on the conditions of migrant workers in Italy.

His activism was centered around the fight against fieldworker exploitation and the system known in Italian as “caporalato” — an illegal form of labour in which the recruiter, called caporale, acts as a negotiator, exploiting and profiting from the enrolling of migrant workers to serve the demands of employers.

Aboubakar Soumahoro’s campaign poster in the run-up to the election/Photo: Aboubakar Soumahoro/Facebook

First Soumahoro was employed with the USB (‘Unione sindacale di base’ meaning the ‘Basic union’) and later with the ‘Lega Braccianti’ (the Fieldworkers’ Union) which he co-founded. This Union is particularly active and present in the southern region of Puglia, especially in the shantytowns of the Foggia area where many thousands of migrant fieldworkers find seasonal employment in the fields.

Soumahoro was the promoter of many protests, starting in August 2018 when 16 migrant workers died in two separate car accidents in the area of Foggia: they had been loaded on a truck, crowded together, they were returning from a day working in the fields.

In July 2019, after yet another act of violence against immigrants that were going to work, Soumahoro led approximately sixty of them to symbolically ‘occupy’ the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari asking for “better working conditions and a dignified life, a home, the respect of contractual rights, the renewal of residency permits respecting a certain timeline.”

The protest ended when the bishop assured he would see to it that their requests were met.

National working group to contrast the system of ‘caporalato’ launched

Soumahoro’s union activities are many. When he was in the region of Calabria in June 2018, a fieldworker was killed and he asked and requested from the Conte government the establishment of a national working group to fight against the ‘caporalato’ system and the exploitation of agriculture.

Soumahoro chained himself near Montecitorio, the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (the Parliament’s lower chamber), asking for a meeting with the Italian prime minister; he organized and promoted in 2020 in Rome, in the San Giovanni Square, the ‘Stati Popolari degli Invisibili’ (the ‘Invisible Citizens’ Assembly’).

In the Foggia area, in Borgo Mezzanone, to inaugurate the founding of the Fieldworkers’ League, he created the first “Giuseppe Di Vittorio Home of rights and dignity.”

He has also authored a book called “Humanity rebels. Our fight to work and the right to happiness”, published by the Feltrinelli publishing company.


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