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Invisible stories
of inconceivable pain

· The phenomenon of unaccompanied migrant minors ·

The phenomenon is dramatically growing, and is a tragedy within the tragedy. Thousands of unaccompanied migrant children are left alone and too often become easy targets for unscrupulous traffickers. Relaunching this alert is the new report by ANCI (National Association of Italian Municipalities), which is on the front line in monitoring assistance. According to their research, in almost 10 years, the number of unaccompanied migrant children has practically doubled: in 2004 there was talk of 7,870 assisted minors throughout the country, and in 2014 there were 13,523 out of a total of 26,000 migrant minors who arrived in Italy.The largest increase coincided with the outbreak of the war in Syria, when the number grew in just a few months from 45,88 in 2010 to 9,197 in 2011.

“According to data from the Interior Ministry”, Giovanna Di Benedetto told our newspaper — Giovanna is the current spokeswoman for “Save the Children” and for years has been active in assisting refugees and migrants —, “the largest group of unaccompanied minors are African, and specifically Gambians, Egyptians, Eritreans, Guineans, Somalis, Nigerians and Ivorians. The areas of origin are mainly Sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa, while unaccompanied Syrian minors are not many in number”.

These minors carry with them stories of unprecedented violence, ignored by the media. Some flee because they have lost their families, others have left in secret. The journeys of others, however, are carried out to support families who are in debt to traffickers. “These people”, Di Benedetto says, “are mostly Egyptians: they arrive in Italy and are forced to work to repay debts, and then they become trapped in illegal work and exploitation. Girls, especially Nigerians, end up trapped in networks of criminal organizations that exploit prostitution”. Often the journey to Europe itself is already extremely traumatic. Africans experience difficult stages such as crossing the desert, or — according to witnesses — the terrible sojourn in Libya awaiting their departure.
And once they arrive? “After landing”, Di Benedetto explains, “these children are sent to the first reception facility where, in theory, they should remain for about two to three years. In reality, however, the time ends up being much longer due to the high number of people arriving; once past the first stage, they are welcomed into other facilities, smaller communities of 10 to 12 people, where they are faced with the path of integration”.

There are, however, critical issues. And unfortunately, they are many, and not only in Italy: “Being minors, according to Italian law, these unaccompanied youth are entitled to be welcomed regardless of their country of origin”. This is an Italian rule, however, and is shared by few other countries, but not by Europe. On this issue, the EU has remained stagnant, “raising walls, without offering assistance, without understanding that behind these minors are stories of unimaginable violence”, says Di Benedetto. In the case of Italy, however, “a unified national system of assistance and protection for unaccompanied migrant minors is lacking”.

The necessity of one unified national system of assistance and protection is also insisted upon by Umberto Di Primio, Vice President of ANCI. “The situation requires a system of reception and structured integration that is effectively spread throughout the national territory”, he said. We need to address “certain crucial issues, such as increasing the number of places in the first and second reception networks, and reducing the appointed time of the guardians and the time of issuing residence permits”.

by Luca M. Possati

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Dec. 16, 2017

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