More than 6,100 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children in Italy in need of community and family-based care

Omar (17), left, plays football with his housemate Youssouf (17) at a piazza in the small village of Naro, in Sicily, Italy. Omar migrated from Senegal and has been in Italy for about a year.
UNICEF/UN0264441/De Luigi VII Photo
FILE PHOTO: On 5 December 2018, Omar (17), left, plays football with his housemate Youssouf (17) at a piazza in the small village of Naro, in Sicily, Italy. Omar migrated from Senegal and has been in Italy for about a year.

ROME, 5 December 2019 – Approximately 94 per cent of all unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children currently in Italy, 6,172 children under 18, are living in reception centres, often isolated and cut off from opportunities to build their future, said UNICEF today. The agency urged authorities to increase community and family-based housing solutions across the country.

“Community-based accommodation such as foster care and supported living arrangements have proven successful in Italy, but too many children remain excluded. Additional investments are needed to expand these services to reach all unaccompanied refugee and migrant children in the country,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe, Ms. Afshan Khan, who is currently in Rome and meeting with young people. “Community housing promotes social inclusion, helps young people access education and training opportunities and is a much more cost-effective solution compared to running reception centres.”

As of October 2019, it is estimated that an additional 5,000 young refugees and migrants have left Italy’s formal reception system and are now unaccounted for. Most leave due to bureaucratic delays, a lack of information on their legal rights, concerns about their status once they turn 18 or to reunify with family members. These young people often end up on the streets, cut off from protection and basic services and are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Seventeen-year-old Amadou* from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was homeless last year, sleeping at Rome’s Central Station for a week. An NGO identified Amadou and placed him in an apartment with five other vulnerable boys who now receive ongoing support.

“I was terrified when I was sleeping at the Central Station. I didn’t know where to get help, where I would eat or how I would survive,” said Amadou* who is participating at a UNICEF-organized event in Rome today, where young refugees and migrants share the challenges they have faced in finding accommodation in their new communities. “But life changed when I moved into the apartment. I learned how to take care of myself. Now, I go to school and I am learning to be a chef.”

Between 2014 and 2018 more than 70,000 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Italy by sea. Approximately 60,000 of these young people have now turned 18 and are no longer eligible for protective services provided to children. These young people remain vulnerable as they transition to adulthood and require support including access to education and training opportunities.

UNICEF is currently appealing for USD $27.3 million to respond to the needs of refugee and migrant children across Europe. This includes improving protection services for young refugees and migrants in Italy and connecting them to vital health, education and training services.

*Name changed to protect identity

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