ROME / DHAKA - Of the many cases chronicling the exploitation of South Asian migrant workers in Italy, none is perhaps more visible yet underreported than the plight of rose sellers – a common sight in busy tourist destinations like Rome, Milan or Turin.

As climate change, religious persecution, and economic instability drive large sections of South Asian populations into extreme poverty, a last resort is to seek better opportunities in the West. With migrant workers facing abuse or even death in Gulf nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Europe, by comparison, offers more hope. 

But despite its growing need for foreign laborers, Italy is working with the EU to keep out the thousands of “unwanted” migrants crossing into the region each year looking for work, mainly via Italy. Obtaining visas or documentation in Italy is difficult.

In the absence of ways to arrive in the region legally, migrants try to reach Europe through illegal, dangerous, and expensive trips, and many of them get indebted to their smugglers or fall victim to scenarios that legal experts increasingly say qualify as human trafficking. Once in Italy, migrants are forced to repay the loans taken to bear the cost of their trip and pay their hosts by any means possible. Some end up in the streets selling roses, where they face rejection, racism, and even violence: recent reports show rose sellers attacked on the streets in multiple cities and regions across Italy.

With the help of a Modern Slavery Unveiled grant, they investigated how men of predominantly Bangladeshi origin are drawn to Italy and become street vendors to survive.

© 📸 Agostino Petroni

Team members

Agostino Petroni

Agostino Petroni is an independent Italian journalist based in Rome.

Agostino Petroni

Sandali Handagama

Sandali Handagama is a business journalist from Colombo, Sri Lanka 


Ottavia Spaggiari

Ottavia Spaggiari is an award-winning investigative journalist, long-form writer, editor and media trainer.

Ottavia Spaggiari
€10,940 allocated on 17/03/2023



  • රෝස වෙළෙන්දන්ගේ අඳුරු අන්දරය (The Dark Tale of Rose Sellers), Anidda, 25/02/2024

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