The intangible needs of migrant children

by Luigi Carletti, translation by Yves Margarita, photograph by François Struzik

It is only when you look into their eyes that you truly understand what we are dealing with: unaccompanied migrant minors. It may sound more like a bureaucratic formula, but these are children who have landed on the Italian coast among hundreds, thousands, of desperate people.

Some of these minors were intercepted by the Italian Navy, or rescued by programs such as Mare Nostrum and Triton. Others were found on the beach in truly dramatic conditions. These are youths who have crossed deserts, stormy seas and the black waters of the worst human evils. Youths whose childhood has been denied.

When you look into their eyes the meaning of intangible needs can really be seen.

Many officials in charge of immigration maintain that once food, drink, clothes and medical aid have been granted much has been done. And indeed, very much has been done. However, what these children need, above all else, is a future.

They have an urgent, desperate need to feel part of something that is not merely a survival plan, but a plan centered around them. A plan that takes into consideration the traumas and the deep psychological scars they bear. A plan built on their abilities, their experiences, their ambitions and their dreams.

This is precisely what Terre des Hommes and Fondation d’Harcourt are doing today with project Faro. Both organizations have joined their resources and their skills and are working together in the south of Sicily. Federica Giannotta, in charge of Terre des Hommes programs in Italy, explains:

“Compared to our past experiences, this fifth edition of Faro focuses even more on the fields of psychosocial and mental health. These are two parallel lines of work that are tightly related in helping a person transitioning from what he/she has left behind and a new and unknown world.”

Intangible needs are among the first priorities for Fondation d’Harcourt’s intervention across the globe. Gaia Montauti d’Harcourt, Managing Director, states:

“Our foundation has been focusing on mental health and psychosocial issues for some years now because we found they were generally being undermined. It is thought that food, care and clothes are the only primary needs. They are primary, it is true, but this leads to forgetting about the deepest and most delicate aspects of human nature. When it comes to unaccompanied minors, these aspects acquire a status of absolute emergency.”


Project Faro launched its fifth edition in February 2015 at the Priolo-Gargallo and Melilli reception centers, both in the province of Syracuse, Sicily. A team composed by a sociologist, a cultural mediator and a psychologist with previous experience in the field is working every day in these centers to help alleviate psychological distress.

Federica Giannotta explains that their approach is built around three action points: orienting the minors in the new context, rebuilding their bonds of trust and helping them realize the life project that brought them to Italy.

“We are confident that children will benefit from psychosocial support, and we hope it will help them regain hope in their future”, says Gaia, who has visited the Sicilian reception centers, seeing the unaccompanied minors firsthand and speaking personally with members of the staff.

Federica Giannota, along with Donatella Vergari and other members of Terre des Hommes, experienced the revolt and burning of the Imbriacola reception center in Lampedusa. Although she is convinced that it is all in the past now, she knows that the road ahead is still long and hard.

“With Faro we are trying to shift the reception system from an emergency model to a more responsible one. It is a process that involves everyone: organizations, workers and authorities. We, together with Fondation d’Harcourt, will work hard to this end”, says Federica.


Addressing the most delicate aspects of human nature when working with unaccompanied minors will help them face their new and challenging reality with intent.