by Elisa Maimone, Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati – CIR (Italian Council for Refugees)*

Italian law prescribes that unaccompanied children cannot be placed in detention centres or in reception centres for adults. However, in practice unaccompanied minors (UAMs) are placed together with adults in hotspot facilities in Italy, in “closed” centres in open violation of Constitutional law. Paradoxically, they are obliged to remain in a detention-like situation longer than adults due to the lack of available places in dedicated reception centres for them. These centres are few in number and usually overcrowded, and there are few places available due to the sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving over the last few years. According to data from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, in 2015, 11,921 unaccompanied minors were accommodated in Italy, whereas in 2014 10,536 were accommodation. The number was 6,319 in 2013. While adults generally remain in the hotspot facilities from between two to six days, minors have had to stay for several weeks (mainly in Pozzallo and Lampedusa). For instance, 260 unaccompanied minors reached the Sicilian coast in a disembarkation on 25 May in Palermo. They were sent to the hotspot facilities for identification and registration. As of 11 June, ten of them were still in the hotspot premises at Trapani waiting for available places within the dedicated centres. On that date, in Lampedusa there are 66 unaccompanied minors still waiting to be transferred to dedicated reception centres.

Moreover, unaccompanied minors are not always separated from adults depending on the hotspot facilities where they are placed. As has been denounced by many organizations, unaccompanied minors in Pozzallo have remained in the hotspot facilities without being separated from adults and in shameful reception conditions. The reception conditions in Lampedusa have also been criticised very strongly and conditions at the moment are even worse following a fire on 17 May after which 170 places were lost (the part of the building dedicated to men).

By law, the responsibility for taking charge of unaccompanied minors lies with the municipality where the minor is present. CIR was informed during a field mission conducted in Trapani that before the implementation of the hotspot approach unaccompanied minors were taken immediately from the port by the competent staff of the municipality and transferred immediately to the dedicated centre. With the establishment of the hotspot facilities the situation of UAMs has worsened. The Municipality seems now slower at finding accommodation for unaccompanied minors, perhaps due to the possibility to temporarily accommodate them in the hotspot facilities. In this respect it should be emphasized that there is a need to set up a centralized system for the reception of UAMs in order to facilitate their quick transfer to dedicated centres where their specific needs can be adequately met.

Considering the increasing number of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy and that in Europe according to Europol data 10,000 UAMs have disappeared out of which more than 6,000 were from Italy, more attention should be given to this vulnerable group at EU and Italian level.  UAMs are more exposed to risks of being smuggled or being exposed to work and/or sexual exploitation.

* CIR conducted a field visit to Trapani in the framework of the project ‘Strengthening NGO involvement and capacities around EU hotspots developments’ 2016-2017, implemented by the Dutch Council for Refugees, the Greek Council for Refugees, the Italian Council for Refugees, ECRE and Proasyl.

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 24 June 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.