Italy is hope to thousands of unaccompanied minors

Promoting the psychosocial wellbeing of vulnerable groups

In the first two months of this year nearly 2,000 unaccompanied minors reached the shores of Sicily by boat. Early in March we visited our partner Terre des Hommes (TdH) Italy to share in their efforts promoting psychosocial support for these unaccompanied minors on the Italian island.

It was a great opportunity to spend some time with the team and discuss project FARO’s activities. We met with Ganda, the psychologist, Sukeina, the cultural mediator and Francesca, the sociologist. It is always impressive to hear them describe their experiences with such passion and commitment.

We visited the Cooperativa San Francesco extraordinary reception center in Caltagirone. The center hosts around 70 unaccompanied minors, male and female, aged between 12 and 17. Upon our arrival we encountered a group of Nigerian teenagers involved in a psychosocial activity with Sukeina and Francesca. The children were excitedly personalizing some wooden boxes with color paint, a relaxing and creative activity which helps Ganda in identifying cases of vulnerability among the participants.

The TdH team has also been collaborating with the public health structure (ASL) of Catania, referring the most vulnerable cases to them. During our field visit we met with Dr. Aldo Virgilio, only psychiatrist specialized in transcultural psychiatry in Sicily. Dr. Virgilio highlighted the necessity to build and share competences among health personnel across the region, in particular training regarding refugees and migrants. He also emphasized the need for a holistic approach able to embrace this new humanitarian emergency.

Another TdH team works in a so-called “hotspot” in Pozzallo, province of Ragusa, which we had the opportunity to visit for the first time. Hotspots have been created to identify and register disembarked migrants within 48-72 hours of their arrival.

Each person, including unaccompanied minors, has their picture and fingerprints taken. The Vice Prefect, responsible for the hotspot, walked us through the process that all people arriving by boat go through to enter the center.

Among the many national and international stakeholders involved in these hotspots, TdH carries out a series of psychosocial activities which help humanize an otherwise tense environment. TdH seeks to identify, refer and follow the most vulnerable cases while listening to the needs of the unaccompanied children and giving them useful information and comfort.

Given the harsh situations under which these children arrive on European coasts, and the many times violent lives they leave behind, on 29 March the Italian Parliament passed a comprehensive law for the protection of unaccompanied and separated children arriving in the country . This is a historic event, as it is the first law of its kind in the world and we thank all the organizations, including TdH Italy, that contributed to its approval.

It is always inspiring to see how resilient migrant children are or have become and how they are dealing with this distinct and important phase of their lives. We thank Terre des Hommes for their valuable effort in helping these minors regain hope for their futures!