UN report calls for help for child refugees

15 November 2019

New study outlines difficulties faced by migrants in Italy

REUTERS

Migrants disembark at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily, after spending nearly two weeks on board the Médecins Sans Frontières-operated Ocean Viking, on 30 October

Migrants disembark at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily, after spending nearly two weeks on board the Médecins Sans Frontières-operated Ocean Viking, on 30...

AS MANY as 60,000 children and teenagers who arrived in Italy alone and unaccompanied have now turned 18, and are in need of support to help them move towards independent adulthood, UNICEF has said.

A report by the UN found that, by June this year, there were 7272 unaccompanied children in Italy, and that between 2014 and 2018, 60,000 of them had turned 18, thus losing access to services provided for child refugees and migrants. Some were forced when they reached 18 to leave the facilities in which they had been housed.

The majority are boys aged 15 to 17, many of them from West Africa and Egypt. Between 2015 and 2019, 4700 of them absconded from reception facilities, and are missing.

UNICEF’s country co-ordinator for the Migration Programme in Italy, Anna Riatti, said: “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.”

The study, At the Crossroads: Unaccompanied and separated children in the transition to adulthood in Italy, was funded by the UN Children’s Fund, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Organization for Migration.

Its authors say that young refugees and migrants face a “triple transition”: from adolescence to adulthood; moving from one country to another; and moving through the trauma of their journey.

The research focused on three regions of Italy that have received large numbers of young unaccompanied and separated refugees and migrants: Sicily, Lombardy, and Latium (Lazio).

It found that transition to adulthood was made difficult for many young migrants by complex procedures to get legal documents; racism; difficulty getting training and into work; and having to overcome emotional trauma and violence.

Roland Schilling, from UNHCR, said: “Recognising the complex nature of the children-adult distinction, and acknowledging that persons coming of age have specific needs, lies at the heart of this research. Having a clearer understanding of the factors that favour or hinder a positive transition from being a refugee child to becoming an independent, self-reliant, and resilient adult will help states step up their efforts to protect not only refugee children, but also their successful transition to adulthood.”

UNICEF also warned this week that its work with young people in Syria was under threat because of a shortfall in its funding. Only just over half the money needed for its humanitarian work in Syria this year has been donated, meaning that there will be no money to buy winter clothes for hundreds of thousands of children, or to provide clean water and sanitation.

Despite the increased fighting since Turkish forces invaded the Kurdish controlled region last month, the charity said that its greatest problem reaching children most in need was money.

Anti-migrant language criticised. European policymakers were told this week that they should change the negative language used about migration, and counter harmful attitudes and rising hostility towards refugees.

Caritas Europe, a network of Roman Catholic humanitarian organisations, published a study, Common Home: Migration and development in Europe and beyond, which looks at the situation in ten European countries.

It states that the divisive rhetoric of populist politicians and the media in some countries has legitimised discrimination against migrants, and that the contributions of migrants to society are ignored or undervalued. It calls for a longer-term approach to migration that also took seriously the concern of “native populations”, and says that respect for human rights should be placed at the heart of all partnerships with third countries.

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