What do you see when you look around you? What do you imagine when you close your eyes? These are two of the questions put to 14 young unaccompanied migrants in Rome. The adolescents took part in a photography course and were asked to visualize their thoughts through photos. Now, these photos are being displayed in an exhibition.
"With my eyes open, I am gazing at the dreams I want to make reality.""I dream about becoming a footballer. I miss my family."
"I want more friends in my life who are kind."
"I see that some friends stick around through thick and thin, but others are only there when they want something."
"I think a lot about my family. My brother is 10 and my sister is 14. I used to look after them and now they are all alone. They are who I really miss."
These are just some of the thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams from a group of adolescents who arrived in Italy as unaccompanied migrants in the last few years. All fourteen of them, aged 14 to 18, have recently taken part in a photography course, culminating in an exhibition organized by UNHCR and the authority for the protection of children and adolescents in Italy (AGIA). The photos are being shown at the Museo della Mura in Rome from December 6 through January 6.
"The work you see on display here is testament to the importance of allowing every unaccompanied minor the possibility of participating in society," Filomena Albano, the National Guarantor for children and Adolescents says of the exhibition.
The project organizers asked the budding photographers to express their needs and their dreams by taking pictures of their lives, their surroundings and what they see when they look around them with open eyes - and what they imagine when they close their eyes.
"In this process these young people went from being the objects of rights that need to be applied to being subjects of their own rights and destiny." (Filomena Albano – AGIA)
Listening is fundamental to the development of adolescents everywhere but it is of particular importance to these unaccompanied minors, Albano points out. "These young people have already lived through many complex experiences due to their migration journeys," he says.
Learning to document their reality and express their hopes and fears through photography can be part of their journey towards integration. Albano acknowledges that these young people may have many obstacles on their roads ahead, but he believes that expressing themselves can help these adolescents take control of their own rights and destiny.
Felipe Camargo, UNHCR delegate for southern Europe, underlines the importance of being listened to. "It is one of the four fundamental principles of the convention for the rights of the child," he says. "It is the only way to turn children into the protagonists of their own story and to help inform them of their rights."
In the last three years, more than 30,000 unaccompanied or separated (from their families) foreign minors have arrived on Italian shores. As the numbers increased, so have the challenges for Italian authorities. They are working hard to try and guarantee adequate protection for these young people, many of whom are often extremely vulnerable and have very specific needs.
Organizers hope that the people who come to see the exhibition will start to see the world through these young people’s eyes and will then become more aware of the need to protect them and integrate them into Italian society.
The project and exhibition are a collaboration between UNHCR and the Italian National Agency: The Guarantor for Childhood and Adolescence. (Agia). It is sponsored by Canon, Italian railways and the newspaper Il Messaggero.•••• ➤ Also read: Future unknown: Unaccompanied minors in Italy