In 2016, 100,264 children arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria, of whom 33,806 (34%) were unaccompanied minors (UAMs). Specifically in the Italian context, 28,223 children arrived between 1 January and 31 December 2016, among which 25,846 (92%) were unaccompanied or separated, double as much compared to the number of UAMs arrived in 2015 (12,360).
Children on the move, both girls and boys, are exposed to high risks and often suffer from extreme forms of violence, exploitation, trafficking, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, before and/or after their arrival in Europe. The research findings by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in the assessment of child protection systems across EU countries most affected by the current migration flows indicate the lacks and criticism linked to system of reception and protection of UAMs: the identification of children at risk continues to be widely lacking; the conditions at first reception facilities appear inadequate; an increased number of children choose to remain outside of any form of protection.
In light of the above reasons, in 2017 IOM – in close cooperation with UNHCR, UNICEF and Save the Children – has tailored a simultaneous regional and national action in all European Member states along the so-called “Western Balkans route” (Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Hungary) and in Italy, to address the specific needs of unaccompanied minors.
The project, funded by the European Commission, aims at supporting the staff of first and second reception facilities for UAMs in Southern Italy in addressing their specific needs (mainly related to the trafficking of minors) and providing counselling to minors in the reception centres. In order to ensure the protection of unaccompanied minors, working in close cooperation with the Italian Authorities and national and international stakeholders working directly for and with children, the project is focused on 4 main areas of intervention:
1. Preventing violence against children and guaranteeing their rights along the migration route – from point of entry, in hotspots, in transit and in reception centres; 2. Strengthening the integrated National Child Protection Systems; 3. Contribute to the capacity-building of national asylum and migration professionals, national and local NGOs and other frontline responders, who are in contact with children; 4. Improving the collection of data and monitoring the condition of refugee and migrant children in target countries.
The activities in unaccompanied minors’ reception facilities and with child protection national and international stakeholders in Sicily and Calabria are carried out by specific on-field IOM Child Protection experts.