On 23 June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report highlighting the harrowing conditions faced by unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the Pozzallo hotspot. During their visit on 9 June 2016, HRW found that the centre was hosting 365 asylum seekers – over double the hotspot’s capacity – of whom 185 where unaccompanied children. The report states that unaccompanied children under the age of 15 are not allowed to leave the guarded centre and concludes that the hotspot fails to safeguard the rights of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy.

“Pozzallo is no place for a child, much less for extended periods of time,” said HRW’s Judith Sunderland. “It is unacceptable that young, vulnerable children without family members remain there for weeks, while adults are normally transferred within three days”.

HRW documents that the Pozzallo centre presents several harsh and unsafe conditions:  significant shortages of shelter with children sleeping on the ground; no separate washroom facilities for children; lack of psychological support for traumatised children; and the inability of children to call their parents and/or other relatives upon arrival. As a result, children are being placed at risk of sexual abuse and violence from adults, the report concludes.

HRW, therefore, calls for the immediate establishment of first-arrival centres specifically designed for unaccompanied children. The report also lls for the creation of a national database to track the number of available places at longer-term centres, in order to allow for the swift transfer of unaccompanied children to adequate reception facilities. Additionally, HRW calls on the European Commission to ensure that unaccompanied children are not held in EU-sponsored hotspots for longer than is strictly necessary. Most importantly, the operation of hotspots should be in accordance with international human rights law and the EU Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors, which states that children should be separated from adults and be provided with appropriate accommodation, and that detention should only be used in exceptional cases.

ECRE member, the Italian Council for refugees, has also reported on the placement of unaccompanied minors with adults in hotspot facilities in Italy, which is in violation of Constitutional Law.

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 1 July 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.