Donnerstag, 8. September 2016

Everyday, 28 Children Disappear from the Italian Reception System

The number of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children arriving in Europe this year has doubled. But this is taking place in the context of a reception system which is failing to provide them with the necessary support. Oxfam's new report released today, “Great Expectations Left to Drift”, exposes this situation.

It is enough to remember that every day, 28 unaccompanied children simply “disappear” due to an inadequate and malfunctioning system.

Many of them find themselves confined for an indefinite period in centres they cannot leave, forced to live in inadequate and unsafe housing, without information about their rights. Others have family in European countries and do not want to stay in Italy. The consequences are inevitable. Many have escaped from the reception and live on the street, exposed to still greater risks. The situation exposes the inadequacy of the European and Italian approach to the fact of migration.

Italy, gateway to Europe: 15% of arrivals are unaccompanied minors

After the closure of the Western Balkan route and the agreement between the EU and Turkey, Italy once again became the principle point of access for migrants headed for Europe. Many of them are minors arriving on their own. According to the latest data published by the UNHCR, the number of unaccompanied children arriving in Europe significantly increased in 2016, in the end representing 15% of all arrivals.

By the end of July, the UNHCR reports that 13,705 unaccompanied minors were landed in Italy: a larger number than for arrivals in 2015 (12,360 children).

Despite the work carried out by civil society and many local councils and regional government, the Italian reception system seems to remain inadequate for the protection of unaccompanied children and their rights. The Hotspot centres, for example, set up by the EU and Italian authorities for the registration of new arrivals and to speed up the deportation and rejection processes, are currently in a situation of chronic overcrowding and are failing to provide adequate services, even in terms of hygiene and sanitation.

Even though the maximum time spent in a Hotspot ought to last 48-72 hours, many end up remaining stuck there for weeks, frequently without being able to change their clothes (not even their underwear) and without being able to call their families back home or relative in Europe.

Urgent joint action required from Italy and Europe

Oxfam calls on the Italian authorities and European partners to immediately intervene so as to guarantee unaccompanied minors adequate and safe housing and the necessary support to be able to live in a dignified manner.

The dramatic situation to which unaccompanied minors in Italy are subjected, clearly shows the inability of European governments and of the Italian authorities to protect the children who are arriving in search of security and dignity”, explains the Director of Campaigns for Oxfam Italia, Elisa Bacciotti. “This demonstrates yet again the failure of Europe's current approach, where the management of a common border is entrusted to only a few countries. Europe must remain united in accepting people who flee conflicts, persecution and situations which have now become unsustainable.”

The accounts of young people who have crossed the Mediterranean on their own

The majority of children who cross the sea on their own and arrive on Italian coasts come from Egypt, Gambia, Nigeria and Somalia. They are fleeing serious situations of conflict, insecurity and poverty.

I left Gambia with my brother a year ago”, 'O', 16, tells us, originally from Gambia. “I wasn't safe in my country, the police were threatening me. Some of our neighbours had been killed during a gunfight […] We left on a rubber dinghy with 118 people. After a few hours there was something like a burst, a fire: in the confusion, my brother slid into the water. I didn't see him again. He had given me his life-jacket.”

The situation in the centres of first and second reception, to which minors are transferred after being registered, is often not much better than in the Hotspots. The young migrants are frequently detained without being able to leave. Oxfam has gathered witness accounts of threats and violence ignored by the centres' managers.

At the centre in Pozzallo there's a group of adults from Somalia who treat us Eritreans very badly, beating and insulting us”, 'D', 17, tells us, originally from Eritrea. “Despite repeatedly telling the police and the centre's workers about this, the Somalis kept on, and no one did anything.”

Around 40% of unaccompanied minors are effectively stuck in Sicily, frequently in small port towns. This is the result of a national regulation which puts strong barriers on the possibility for other regions in Italy to share the responsibility of hosting these children and young people, precluding the possibility of their being housed in more appropriate and dignified structures and locations”, Bacciotti continues. “This problem has to be overcome. Italy has to construct a national system able to guarantee unaccompanied children higher standards of reception, and European governments needs to collaborate with our country in meeting this objectives. To this end, the priority is that all member states of the EU eliminate and prevent every form of detention of minors. There are no circumstances under which the detention of minors is acceptable but is instead always a violation of the rights of the child.”

Oxfam and its partner organisations in Italy, such as AccoglieRete and Borderline Sicilia regularly meet young people who tell of not having been informed of the possibility to claim asylum right to a legal guardian, i.e. someone who acts in their best interests and safeguards their rights. The assigning of a legal guardian, however, often takes months, compromising their possibility of accessing a normal future, and having a serious slowing effect on the process of regularising and integration of unaccompanied minors.

More than 5,000 minors have “disappeared” in the first 6 months of this year alone

In the first 6 months of 2016, 5,222 unaccompanied minors have been declared “missing”, having run away from the reception centres in order to continue their journeys and reach other European countries. These young people thus become invisible, dropping off the legal radar, and consequentially becoming still more vulnerable to acts of violence and exploitation.

If the situation of children is particularly critical, that of those who turn 18 is no better. Many are simply imprisoned in centres in which they stay, thus also ending up in the middle of the street.

In ten days' time the governments of the whole world will meet at the UN in New York in order to define their concrete objectives for those forced to flee: this is the moment in which to ask for a change in the destiny of refugees.

We ask the Italian government to engage in guaranteeing security, dignity and the hope for a better future for those forced to become refugees.

Sign the petition Stand as One: Together for those in flight

Project "OpenEurope" - Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus  

Translation: Richard Braude