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United Nations’ Report: Young Refugees and Migrants in Italy Need More Support

The first study commissioned by UNHCR UNICEF and IOM highlights the “dire needs” of teenagers and young adults who arrived in Italy alone

B., 18 years old, a refugee from war-affected South Sudan in class at the United World College, near Trieste, where he has won a full scholarship to complete the international baccalaureate, October 2017 (Photo UN)

Researchers facilitated peer-to-peer biographical interviews and focus groups, so that interviewees could share their life experiences with “ample scope to express themselves freely.” 

For teenagers, becoming 18 years old marks the completion of adolescence, the promise of unknown freedom and the dawn of responsibility. But when teenagers and young adults arrive in Italy as unaccompanied migrants and refugees, the cusp of adulthood brings that and more: new hurdles and uncertainty.

On Nov 8th, the UN published an extensive report – the first of its kind – on the experience of early adulthood for migrant and refugee teenagers and young adults in Italy.  The UN said the report highlighted the “dire needs” of this population, which lacked “support” to manage this transition. The report included the voices of 185 teenagers, most of whom were 17 and 18 years old, living in Sicily, Lombardy and Lazio, and with Gambian, Egyptian and Albanian nationalities. Their residency and work status varied.

UNICEF, UNHCR and IOM commissioned the 88-page report,  At the crossroad: Unaccompanied and separated children in the transition to adulthood in Italy, with research assistance from the Initiatives and Studies on Multi-ethnicities Foundation, University of Roma Tre and University of Catania in Italy. The report commissioners said they hope the findings, which were directed at Italian authorities and EU commissioners, will lead to “more informed policy and decision making to fulfill refugee and migrant children’s rights, improve their protection and support their social inclusion into host communities.”

The dissemination of the report comes at an interesting time. Last week, Italy and Libya renewed their highly criticized Memorandum of Understanding Agreement despite news that the Italian-financed Libyan Coast Guard has used human traffickers to handle migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Most unaccompanied migrants and refugees entering Italy are on the cusp of adulthood. Since the beginning of this year, 13 percent of migrants and refugees that arrived in Italy by sea were unaccompanied minors. Since 2015, nearly half of the children who arrive are 17 years old and 93% percent are identified as male, according to this report.

A key finding in the report reinforces the precarious situation faced by these teenagers on their 18th birthday. Without guaranteed residency, young adults face barriers to safe housing, education, training and work.

Omar (17), far right in second row, and other unaccompanied migrant boys at an abandoned church in Sicily, Italy. Most of them were transferred without a choice to this very small village. (Photo UNICEF/Stefano De Luigi)

The report also highlighted the aspirations and dreams of the teenagers and young adults interviewed, many of whom were eager to work, reunite with their families and settle. According to the report, the most common desire of the interviewed teenagers and young adults was “to build a future in Italy… specifically where they have experienced the most significant stages of their process of growth towards adulthood.” Researchers facilitated peer-to-peer biographical interviews and focus groups, so that interviewees could share their life experiences with “ample scope to express themselves freely.” 

Other obstacles mentioned in the report were, exposure to discrimination and racism and the ability to overcome trauma. Anna Riatti, UNICEF Country Coordinator for the Migration Programme in Italy said migrant teenagers who experienced trauma should not be singled out from other adolescents with similar life experiences. She stressed the need to help adolescent migrants after they turn 18.

“The difference between a 17-year-old refugee or migrant who fled conflict or violence and an 18-year-old who has lived through the same traumatic experience is negligible,” said Riatti. “The potential loss of continuous support for tens of thousands of young people – due to an artificial, age-based distinction, – will put them at further risk of social isolation, violence, abuse and an uncertain future.”

Below, we cite the UN’s recommendations to Italian Authorities and EU:

Recommendations to Italian Authorities

  • Adopt an inter-sectorial national strategy to increase social inclusion for young refugees and migrants who have recently turned 18, as well a National Action Plan against racism, xenophobia and discrimination. 
  • Ensure the full implementation of Law no. 47/2017 on protection measures for UASC.
  • Ensure young people have access to psycho-social support, health care, education, gender-based violence prevention and response, training and employment services.
  • Provide information to young people on the dangers of getting involved in informal and illegal activities such as trafficking and sexual exploitation.
  • Accelerate procedures to recognize foreign qualifications.
  • Increase participation of young refugees and migrants in social and recreational activities.

Recommendations to the European Commission

  • Facilitate effective cooperation between Member States in assessing the best interests of every child, and in implementing family reunification procedures
  • Establish a system to collect accurate data and information on current and former unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children to strengthen protection systems.
  • Earmark resources under the upcoming EC Asylum and Migration Fund to strengthen and scale up the good practices identified in this report

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