Children Alone: Pulled from the sea, fallen by the wayside | Oxfam

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The latest data estimates that around half of all refugees worldwide are under 18 years old. In 2015, nearly 100,000 children who lodged an asylum request were unaccompanied, meaning they were not assisted or represented by their parents or any other adult. In Italy, according to the UNHCR, the number of unaccompanied children has risen significantly in 2016, and now makes up 15 percent of all arrivals.  The Italian reception system has proved inadequate in protecting lone refugee and migrant children and their rights. During the first six months of 2016, 5,222 unaccompanied children were reported missing, having run away from reception centres. They have become invisible, under the legal radar and are therefore even more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
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    OXFAM MEDIA BRIEFING 08 September 2016   Children alone Pulled from the sea, fallen by the wayside Background Alone, confused and scared. Their rights curbed and hopes crushed. This is the state of far too many children who make it across the Mediterranean to “safety”. The latest data estimates that more than 10 million people – around half of all the refugees worldwide – are “minors” (that is children under 18-years-old). At the same time, nearly 100,000 children who lodged an asylum request were unaccompanied - that is by definition those who are not assisted or represented by their parents or any other adult  1 . In Italy, according to the UNHCR, the number of unaccompanied children has risen significantly in 2016, and are now 15% of all arrivals. By the end of July, 13,705 unaccompanied children  2   had landed in Italy, more than the whole of 2015 (12,360  3   children). Italy is once again the principal arrival point for irregular migrants (this is people who enter a country without the documentation required by authorities) to Europe after governments decided to close the Western Balkan route and the European Union entered into its deal with Turkey. However, the Italian reception system has turned out to be inadequate for protecting lone refugee and migrant children and their rights. Even worse, during the first six months of 2016, 5,222 unaccompanied children were reported missing, having run away from reception centers. They become invisible, under the legal radar and are therefore even more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. To put it another way, in Italy alone, on average during each and every day in this past year, more than 28 unaccompanied children are “lost” from a broken system and into an unimaginable fate. 1  UNHCR Global Trends 2015. 2  UNHCR: http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php  3  Ministry of the Interior.    Fleeing hardship and a grueling journey More than 94% of unaccompanied children are male; 82.2% of them said they were between 16 and 17 years old; 10% said they were 15 years old; and 7.8% under 14 years old. This data is based on the age they gave when they were first identified – so it may not be their real age. Like all refugees and migrants in Italy they come from very different places. Most of these children are Egyptian (21%); Gambian (12.3%); Albanian 4  (11.4%); Eritrean (7.1%); Nigerian (6.2%); and Somali (5.2%). 5  There are many complex underlying reasons that unaccompanied children arrive into Europe, including to escape war, conflict, insecurity and poverty. 6   “My brother slid into to the sea. I never saw him again” Galo, 16 years old, from Gambia Photo: Luigi Baldelli for Oxfam “I left Gambia a year and a half ago with my brother. It wasn’t safe there anymore, the police threatened us. Some of our neighbors had been killed in gunfights. We first crossed Senegal, then Mali. We spent three weeks in Agadez in Niger, where the people who are going to leave all come together. Then we got to Libya, where we were kidnapped and held for two months. There were more than a hundred of us, all from sub-Saharan Africa. We managed to escape and a smuggler helped us find a place on the boats that were leaving. We left on an inflatable boat with 118 other people. After a few hours there was something like an explosion, a fire, and in the confusion my brother slid into the sea. I never saw him again. He’d given me his lifejacket. When the boat started to take in water I thought we’d all die. Seven other people died before the Italian ship came to save us. They were the ones who were sitting at the back, in the part that deflated first.” 4  The Albanian minors are a different case. They obviously follow different routes, mainly crossing the Adriatic sea, and they do not normally apply for asylum. 5  Italian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs 6  Save The Children, 2014; Giovannetti, 2008; Amnesty International, 2015; ANCI Report, 2016.    A failing reception system: Extended detention and no room in reception centers According to the Italian Ministry of Labor and Social Policies 7 , around 40% of the unaccompanied minors who arrive in Italy – that is close to 4,800 children – are in Sicily at the moment. According to the law, these children are supposed to be looked after automatically by the social services of the municipalities where they land 8 . But this causes big problems. “The municipalities where people land are often small, like Pozzallo or Augusta, which do not have enough facilities and resources to respond adequately  9 ”, says Iolanda Genovese from AccoglieRete, an Oxfam partner in Sicily.   When children first arrive, they are taken to the so-called “hotspot” centers for initial registration. These facilities have been created by the EU together with the Italian and Greek authorities to expedite the processing of asylum claims in those countries and execute swifter returns of those rejected, although it should be noted that these hotspots have no legal foundation in national law 10 . The maximum stay in these hotspots is meant to be 48-72 hours 11 . The children are therefore only given enough for a very short stay: one set of clothes, a pair of flip-flops and a €5 telephone card. However, some children end up being stuck in a center for up to 5 weeks. This means never changing their clothes, even their underwear, and not being able to call their family. There is also chronic overcrowding and inadequate sanitation in these facilities. Such awful conditions for children who are de facto detained in these centers create an alarming picture. “ In the port of Augusta, in Syracuse, there are some little girls who even stayed in the Civil Protection tents for two weeks  ,” says Genovese, “ and this made it difficult to look after them properly, medically, when it was necessary... The doctors we talked to told us that they couldn’t administer antibiotics in a place where the temperature was 40°C. ” Inadequate sanitation and overcrowding “In the center I sleep in a big room with 150 other people, adults and children, men and women, all of different nationalities. Everyone in the center sleeps in just one room.” Eyob, 15 years old, from Eritrea “After a week I finished my personal hygiene products and I also asked the staff in the center for some different clothes so I could wash my srcinal clothes, but I haven’t been given anything. There are two toilets, One for males and one for females and now there are about forty women here.” Gebre, 17 years old, from Eritrea 7  Data updated to 30 th  June 2016. These data concern unaccompanied foreign minors in Italy, regardless of where they arrived. 8  In August the Ministry of the Interior announced a plan to redistribute unaccompanied foreign minors at a national level, using 36 facilities that responded to the AMIF 2014-2020 calls (one third of which are in Sicily in any case). 9  Augusta and Pozzallo are the first two ports of arrival in Italy, where over 26,000 people have landed since the beginning of 2016 (Ministry of the Interior). 10  Oxfam, 2016: EU “hotspots” spread fear and doubt. http://oxf.am/Z7j3  11  Referring to the only law currently available on the subject, the Presidential Decree 394/99, which regulates detention in the closed Centers for Identification and Expulsion (CIE).   Once registered, new migrants are supposed to be moved to reception centers. There are initial reception centers for children in which they should be required to stay for no longer than 60 days, and secondary reception centers where people can stay for longer. However, there are not enough places for either adults or children. For example, in July 2016 only 14% of the people applying for asylum in Italy were hosted by the official secondary reception system of the Italian government, known as the System of Protection for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (SPRAR) network 12 . In 2015, the SPRAR network only had 977 places for unaccompanied minors throughout the country 13 . In 2016 calls have been issued 14  to increase the capacity in the initial reception system by 1,000 places, and the capacity of the SPRAR system by 2,000 places. Even if this is achieved, there will still not be enough places to house all new children. “The Italian reception system doesn’t have enough room for unaccompanied children, despite the fact that this certainly isn’t anything new,” says Paola Ottaviano from Borderline Sicilia, an Oxfam partner.  “This means that children are stuck for a long time in facilities that are set up for stays of just a few days, or a few weeks  15  ”. “These centers aren’t equipped for long stays, so they can’t offer services that facilitate integration, for instance daily Italian classes, school enrolment, sports activities and courses. These children are frustrated. They sleep the whole time because they don’t have much to do and they end up getting depressed,” says AccoglieRete’s Iolanda Genovese . “Here in Sicily it is getting more and more difficult to find initial reception centers for children,” continues Genovese . “But this is understandable. The payments are late, the children are never transferred after 60 days as they should be… and every now and then, in order to deal with the new arrivals, 20-30 more children than the planned capacity are sent to the centers”. 12  Ministry of the Interior, 2016. 13  SPRAR Atlas 2015. 14  These were calls for the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIFI) - http://www.interno.gov.it/sites/default/files/avviso_fami_i_accoglienza_msna.pdf   15  The initial reception centers for minors, provided for by the “National Plan to handle the extraordinary flow of non-EU citizens, adults, families and unaccompanied foreign minors” (Agreement approved in the Single Conference of 10 th  July 2014) and included in the Legislative Decree 142/2015, are intended for a maximum stay of 60 days.
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