Migrants working in the kitchen of a restaurant | Photo: UNICEF
Migrants working in the kitchen of a restaurant | Photo: UNICEF

A total of 70,000 unaccompanied minors entered Italy by sea between 2014 and 2018. About 60,000 of them have now become legal adults and need support in their transition to adulthood, according to a new report published by UNICEF, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

A total of 70,000 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) entered Italy by sea between 2014 and 2018. Nearly 90% of them were between the ages of 15 and 17. 

These figures were published in a new report titled "At a crossroads: Unaccompanied and separated children in their transition to adulthood in Italy."

The study was conducted by the ISMU Foundation in collaboration with the University of Catania and the Roma Tre University. The research took place across Sicily, Lombardy, and Lazio on behalf of the United Nations organisations UNICEF, UNHCR, and IOM. 

Many see Italy as transition country

The report found that foreign minors left their homes for Italy for the following reasons:
  • "find opportunities for a better life" 
  • "pursue education"
  • "escape from violence"
  • "flee from family abuse and the risk of early marriage" (particularly among young women)
They hope to "have a family of their own in the future" and "make Italy only a leg of their journey," the authors said. 

A total of 185 young people were surveyed for the study -- 85 minors and 100 legal adults, mainly from Gambia and Egypt. A group of former UASC conducted the interviews.

Transitioning into adulthood

The report said that the number of unaccompanied minors who have grown into adults has risen recently. Around 60,000 UASC turned 18 (which is the legal age in Italy) in the past five years.

The UN agencies said that young, unaccompanied migrants and refugees need help when they transition to adulthood. That's because they face many challenges such as trauma, discrimination, racism, difficulty in finding work, administrative bottlenecks, and lack of information in the legal sphere. 

UNICEF, UNHCR and IOM want Italy and Europe to do more to support young, unaccompanied migrants who just turned 18.

"The difference between a 17-year-old refugee or migrant who fled conflict or violence and an 18-year-old who has lived through the same traumatic experience is negligible," said Anna Riatti, UNICEF Country Coordinator for the Migration Programme in Italy. "The potential loss of continuous support for tens of thousands of young people -- due to an artificial, age-based distinction -- will put them at further risk of social isolation, violence, abuse and an uncertain future."

According to Roland Schilling, UNHCR regional representative to Southern Europe, "improving factors that facilitate or hinder a positive transition from being a refugee minor to becoming an independent, autonomous and resilient adult, will help states to increase efforts aimed not only at protecting refugee minors, but also to allow them to have a positive transition to adulthood."


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