Reception and Protection Policies for Unaccompanied Foreign Minors in Italy
Monia Giovannetti, Head of Unit for Studies and Research of Cittalia-ANCI Research, Rome, Italy.
Over the last ten years, Unaccompanied Minors have become one of the most relevant actors of international migration flows, and recent statistics and surveys show that this trend is far from slowing down. In most destination countries, the presence of UAM asking for protection and seeking asylum raises new challenges and opportunities.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assesses that almost 50% of worldwide asylum-seekers are minors; in particular, minors who are unaccompanied represent between 4 and 15% of this specific category in destination countries. Therefore, children ‘on the move’ represent the new actors of human migrations, and they contribute to shaping and redefining the international scenario (Jiménez & Vacchiano 2011).This phenomenon affects both old and new migration countries, and, especially in Europe, it has contributed to developing a stronger political and academic awareness. The issues related to UAM have been included at the top of political agenda and at the center of political action, indeed the Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2010-2014), approved by the EU on May 2010, aims at developing adequate policies and measures in order to promote, in all Member States, the protection of the rights of minors and to define durable solutions. Moreover, an increasing number of studies have focused their attention on the push and pull factors behind underage migration, specifically on the (sometimes) planned desire of migration: for instance, according to a survey conducted in Morocco in 2012, 33% of Moroccan children expressed a strong desire to leave their country of origin and a further 33% affirmed that they had already planned their migration project/strategy (Volpicelli 2012); while studies in Egypt show that, when considering young people aged between 15 and 29, one out of three expresses a wish to migrate (Population Council 2010 and Elbadawy 2011). Migrant children travelling ‘on their own’ and young people ‘on the move’ have become, from an international point of view, a real migratory entity. In the case of Italy, such a phenomenon has had an impact on the procedures for the safeguarding and care set out by the government, but in particular has led to a substantial re-definition of the Italian admission procedure provided for unaccompanied foreign minors.
This paper will begin with the existing literature and, through a collection of more than a hundred personal stories, will roughly outline the general profile of unaccompanied foreign minors. In the second paragraph, thanks to the data collected by the National Association of the Italian municipalities in the last decade, we focus on the role the Italian local institutions have had in receiving and safeguarding the unaccompanied foreign minors.
Next, after providing a legal framework in which the unaccompanied foreign minors’ status is outlined from a global perspective, we will deal with the main steps that have led to the redefinition of the care system and its main criticisms. The system characterizes itself mainly by the lack of a caring supply chainas defined by the Legislative Decree n142/2015 (government early reception centers haven’t been activated yet). Moreover, the absence of clear and standard procedures all over the country brings about an unaccountable governance of the same phenomenon.
Directly connected to this point is the great territorial heterogeneity of the receiving models that the UAM face: on the one hand, a tested process of action and intervention that considers the provision of shelters a fundamental shared common core as the main mode of safeguarding minors, while at the same time, it doesn’t activate measures meant to favor their inclusion, basically through the formation and the integration into the labor market.
Eventually, it is presented as an aspect of the present situation of the UAM ‘incoming: the widely spread emergency culture or extraordinary event that keeps on being the only way to face the structural situation of immigration to our country.
2 The phenomenon of unaccompanied foreign minors in Italy
According to art. 2 of the Directive 2001/55/EC (Council of the EU) defining the unaccompanied minor condition, in Italy, UAM migration flows underwent a steady increase during the 1990’s, when human migration grew in intensity worldwide. In the last two decades, several qualitative researches (i.e. life histories) were conducted in order to gather an in-depth understanding of the reasons, the history, the changes and evolution that affected the UAM migration path. The results have shown that UAM migration movements towards Italy mainly involve young people coming from Albania, Morocco, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Tunisia. In most cases, they come to Italy with the aim of finding a job and a better future.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the reasons behind migration cannot be reduced to this desire only, and UAM migration experience represents a sum of all the past and recent ambitions and factors that push people to migrate (Melossi & Giovannetti 2002): violence and armed conflicts, better job opportunities, the desire to gain access to higher standards of living conditions, or else to follow the example of friends and relatives who previously emigrated to third countries. Besides these reasons, UAM migration towards Italy has been enhanced by the positive image of the country, the so-called ‘social construction’ of Italy in the collective imagination, on the grounds of the feedback of relatives and acquaintances living in the country, and the information conveyed by the mass media.
In the light of minors’ biographies, and focusing on the push and pull factors that determine their migration, four different UAM profiles migrating to Italy can be outlined (Giovannetti 2008a; 2008c; 2016):
· Minors escaping from violence, armed conflicts, and persecution: this is the case of most children coming from Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Somalia. In general, they don’t have a clear migration project (i.e. multiple stopovers throughout the migration journey, changes in migratory ambitions and/or expectations following one another), and the destination country is endlessly redefined. The case of Afghan minors could be considered as the best example of this category: an individual diaspora experienced at the climax of adolescence in order to escape from never-ending conflicts and persecutions, forcing them to cross Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Turkey. Once in Greece, the journey seems to be almost concluded since the country represents the last boundaries before reaching Italy, through sea crossing or over land. However, Greece is not only a bridge to Europe, but, at the same time, it is described as an unsafe environment due to widespread institutional violence, marginalization of migrants, and arbitrary deportations (Amnesty International 2010; Human Rights Watch 2012).
· ‘Dispatched minors’ looking for better economic conditions: in this case, the minor’s migration project is mainly conceived with the support of the family. UAM choose Italy because they hope to take advantage of better job opportunities offered by the country. In fact, within the migration culture of some sending countries, Italy has progressively emerged as the favorite destination country: the development of several migration communities, and the information shared between them have contributed to indirectly strengthening the country’s positive image. As a consequence, minors’ families are convinced that migration represents the best option in order to improve their living conditions, and, in this view, minors have the primary responsibility to provide their families with economic and financial support by sending remittances back home. This profile is particularly suited for minors coming from Morocco, as well as for the increasing number of Egyptian children. The latter arrive in Italy to find seasonal jobs in the southern regions, and then they move towards the Northern part of the country, searching for a job opportunity in the services and food sectors.
· Minors attracted by ‘new models and lifestyles’. There are a small number of children and young people who decide to migrate in order to experience a new way of life. They are not only attracted by the alleged wealth offered by industrialized countries, but especially by the model of life those countries propose, appearing to their eyes as unmarked by deprivation, in terms of personal and economic achievements: this is the case of Albanian and Tunisian minors “it is from the continuous exchange of information that myths are made alive and fostered. It is within this interaction that the dream and desire of living a different life and therefore being a different person comes alive and remains a constant ‘silent presence’ in their everyday life.” (Calvi, Sacco & Volpicelli 2012).
· Minors pushed by ‘social destructuring’. Minors decide to leave their countries of origin/residence because their socialization contexts have been gradually voided by previous migration. For instance, other members of the family have left and are living in foreign countries, and the ones who remain are basically obliged to ‘turn off the light’ and move abroad. Minors succeed in crossing Italian borders using different routes, means of transport, and strategies aimed at eluding border controls: by sea, by land, on foot, hidden in trucks, coaches, and cars, accompanied by brokers and ‘passeurs’ who falsify minors’ travel documents.
With regard to the journey, the first distinction is between minors who organize the trip by themselves (the so-called self-made travelers) - without any additional costs to be paid for the services of a broker/third party - and the ones who resort to organized smuggling networks. The choice between these alternatives depends on a variety of factors, such as the cost of the journey, the route to be followed, the obstacles linked to an irregular entry, to the way the trip can be financed, and whether the minor counts or not on the support of the family regarding the decision to leave the country.
Once in Italy, the first days prove to be a crucial moment in the migration experience since they constitute the time in which the gap between the minors’ expectations and the real opportunities offered by the country of destination emerges. At the same time, minors start developing the first survival strategies.
In fact, especially for those minors who cannot count on the support of friends and relatives living in Italy, the first period is a sort of ‘individual adventure’ in which they begin to explore the territory, roaming around, and try to use the limited information they have in order to survive. As previously mentioned, the final destination of the journey is often the result of several factors and circumstances (i.e. means of transportation used or people met on the way) more than a conscious and specific choice.
For instance, minors meet new people, and these encounters play a fundamental role since, in most cases, they can soothe minors’ sense of isolation and marginalization, and they contribute to shaping minors’ integration paths. In fact, minors can be integrated in two different ways: on the one hand, they are guided by local policemen, social workers, volunteers; on the other, they get in touch with fellow countrymen. Nevertheless, the second scenario often implies the progressive inclusion of minors in the ‘networks of irregular migration’ since previous migrants share with minors the so-called ‘migrant irregular knowledge’ they have acquired through their experience. They serve as mentors, and they suggest options and opportunities to tackle the situation of insecurity and vulnerability that - at least for the first period - marks their migration experience. Therefore, the people that minors encounter along the way are a key factor for the success or failure of their migration project since those people provide the minors with the information and knowledge to be used in order to take advantage of the opportunities and face the challenges of the migration experience (Melossi & Giovannetti 2002).
The role of Italian municipalities is of paramount importance, since they have the duty to promote, define, and implement policies and strategies in favor of UAM. Local authorities receive, guide, accommodate, and support unaccompanied minors, promoting their social inclusion and equal opportunities.
3 UAM: their impact on the care system and the role of local authorities
Recent migration flows are a fast-moving, ever-changing phenomenon since they are endlessly defined by structural aspects (from the migration push factors, such as poverty, war, political persecution, overcrowding; to the pull factors: job opportunities, the presence of migrant communities) together with individual choices, often determined by friendship and family ties (Ambrosini 2006).
Because of the high complexity of this phenomenon, the role of receiving institutions is extremely difficult. In particular, in order to respond to the challenges related to the increasing presence of UAM, local institutions are called upon to manage both the problems arising from the reception of immigrants and the results and consequences of unplanned flows, i.e. migrants that exceed the annual entry quota but who, nevertheless, satisfy the requisites giving them the right to remain. The migration flows marked by the presence of those vulnerable categories fall within a sort of legal grey area since these migrants often enter the country illegally, but are subsequently permitted to remain, as a result of the protection accorded by national and international law. The main characteristics of these migrants can be described as follows: a) they entered the country illegally but cannot be expelled because they belong to one of the categories protected by national and international law - asylum seekers, minors and victims of trafficking; b) they cannot have immediate access to the labor market, and, as a consequence they are not immediately productive on the economic level; c) they generate high costs for the local welfare system, which is legally bound to provide the most vulnerable categories with adequate assistance (Caponio 2004).
In Italy, the process of institutional and administrative decentralization has attributed a growing importance to the role played by local authorities when addressing vulnerable categories (refugees, UAM, Victims of Trafficking). Chiodini & Milano (2010) stress the nature of social services work as a daily confrontation with, on the one hand, a social phenomenon rich in problematic issues linked to migratory projects that are often fragile and instable, and, on the other hand, on the dynamics and real opportunities of social integration.
In accordance with Law No, 328/2000, concerning the implementation of social and health intervention alongside specific assistance in favor of people and families in need, Italy affords to unaccompanied minors the same treatment envisaged for Italian minors in the field of protection and assistance; in view of the above, local authorities are the bodies mainly responsible for the reception and protection/assistance of unaccompanied minors. Therefore, over the last 15 years, Italian municipalities have had to cope with this tough issue, investing a large amount of economic, social, and operational resources, and redefining their welfare systems (Giovannetti 2008c; Belotti 2010; Accorinti 2013, 2014; Giovannetti & Pacini 2014).
On the one hand, the complexity of the condition of unaccompanied minors results from the fact that they belong to several juridical categories: they are minors, foreign children, asylum-seekers, and victims of trafficking. Hence, the main problem is the promotion of an integrated and coherent approach, along with the possibility of gaining the systematic collaboration of all relevant juridical, social, and administrative stakeholders (Giovannetti 2008b). On the other hand, the presence of several and contrasting measures has made the legal framework complicated and ambiguous, with consequent difficulties in clearly establishing shared/common social and juridical practices and procedures.
Lastly, migration flows have proved to be unpredictable and, as a consequence, the economic resources to be invested in the provision of reception and assistance to foreign minors cannot be easily planned. In particular, this is a major problem in areas such as border and medium and big cities, which represent, in most cases, the first places where minors seek assistance after their arrival in Italy. As mentioned above, even in these areas, the phenomenon acquires specific characteristics that mostly depend on the countries of origin of the minors, and the ways they succeed in reaching Italy.
So far, the Italian municipalities have been the only authorities responsible for the provision of reception and assistance to unaccompanied minors, and, thanks to this crucial role, they have had the opportunity to highlight the main problems related to the actions implemented in favor of minors. In particular, local authorities have repeatedly underlined the lack of standardized national procedures and of adequate institutional support, especially with regard to the definition and implementation of policies and resources to be established in order to guarantee the appropriate management of all cases (from the reception until the integration of the minor in the Italian social context or, on the contrary, the minor’s voluntary repatriation). Therefore, every local authority has had to develop its own procedures, with an inevitable impact in terms of efficiency and the lack of an integrated participation by all the actors involved in the reception and assistance of Unaccompanied minors (Committee for Foreign Minors, Police Headquarters, Juvenile Court, Magistracy).
For these reasons, for more than a decade, since 2002 on an experimental basis and since 2004 in a more structured manner, the national association of Italian municipalities (ANCI) promotes a national biennial survey (involving all of Italy’s Municipalities) to determine numerical magnitude and on protection and assistance policies implemented for unaccompanied foreign minors. The latest report, from July 2016, which includes data from the prior two years (2013-2014), shows that 38,3% out of all the 4,518 municipalities surveyed activated some type of service, resource, guidance activity, protection intervention or a reception project.
Since 2011 the number of unaccompanied minors that have been contacted or taken into custody by the social services of municipalities has increased exponentially, resulting in interventions, activities and services in favor of 9,678 minors in 2013 and 13,523 in 2014 (Giovannetti 2016).
Figure 1 – UAM contacted and/or taken into custody, years 2006-2014 (absolute values)
Source: Giovannetti (2016)
Between 2006 and 2014, the highest recorded increase was in the islands and in the South. At the regional level, in 2014 Sicily had the highest number of unaccompanied minors contacted or taken into custody, with over 3,100 UAM; Lazio comes in second (2,241 UAM, or 16,6%), while Calabria is third, hosting 1,470 UAM. These three regions combined just slightly exceed 50% of all UAM contacted or taken into custody in Italy, which shows the phenomenon is more distributed over all the Italian territory compared to the previous year, when they accounted for 60% of all UAM taken into custody.
Over 96% of minors taken into custody by social services are male and near to coming of age; In fact, in 2014 55.6% of them were seventeen years old. It is worth noting that since 2006 the 16-17 age group has increased, going from 66,1% in 2006 (74,5% in 2008, 77,6% in 2010) to 80% in 2014, with instead a decrease of those aged fifteen, who went from 16,4% in 2006 to 10% in 2014.
Figure 2 – UAM contacted and/or taken into custody, by age range, years 2006-2014 (percentage values)
Source: Giovannetti (2016)
Over half the children come from the following four countries: Egypt, Bangladesh, Gambia and Albania (53,8%); followed by children from Eritrea (7,5%), Afghanistan (4,9%), Senegal (4,8%), Mali (4,2%), Somalia (3.7%) and Nigeria (3,6%). These are the top ten source countries, from where approximately 83% of all minors contacted or taken into custody by social services in Italy during 2014 come.
Among children in custody there is also an increasingly significant rate of minors requesting international protection, where there is the risk that they may be persecuted in their country of origin for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinions, and who have the right to submit, with the help of their guardian, an application for asylum. In the 2013-2014 period there was an increase in numbers, going from 1,205 to 3,171, as well as in terms of the incidence of this segment amongst the total number of children taken into custody by social services (12,5% in 2013 and 23,4 % in 2014).
Figure 3 – UAM contacted and/or taken into custody and UAM requesting international protection, years 2006-2014 (absolute and percentage values)
Source: Giovannetti (2016)
68,2% of unaccompanied minors taken into custody were hosted by first/emergency reception facilities: 9,229 were placed in reception facilities in 2014, meaning a 43,2% increase over the previous year, the strongest growth rate since 2006 (51,2%); Based on the regional distribution of minors, throughout 2014 the municipalities of Sicily (20,9%), Calabria (14%) and Lazio (18,4%), hosted in first/emergency reception more than half (53.3%) of all the unaccompanied foreign minors. Between 2013 and 2014 the greatest increase in unaccompanied minors in first reception was recorded in Campania (+ 1,393%), going from 14 to 209 unaccompanied minors, followed by Calabria (+ 942%, from 124 to 1,929) and Basilicata (+ 260%, from 25 to 90). In particular, in 2014 47,1% of unaccompanied minors have been hosted by large cities, and almost entirely in downtown areas (only 5,2% in the outer metropolitan area). The burden on large cities is nevertheless lower than in the years 2012-2013, when they accounted for over 60% of all minors, returning to values similar to those of 2011.
Figure 4 – UAM contacted and/or taken into custody and UAM in first reception, years 2006-2014 (absolute and percentage values)
Source: Giovannetti (2016)
The total number of minors hosted, meaning those who went through first reception plus those already present in second reception, after a fluctuating trend that lasted until 2010, there has been a steady increase since 2011, with a sharp increase in 2013 (+ 31,7%), where they reached 5,506, and which becomes very significant in 2014, with 8,448 minors (+ 53,4%). In this latter year a significant increase occurred, as it already had in 2011, as a result of the so called North Africa Emergency.
Figure 5 – UAM in second reception, years 2006-2014 (absolute and percentage values)
Source: Giovannetti (2016)
From 2006 to 2010 the number of minors that fled the facilities during the first reception period steadily declined, while in 2011 the total numbers increased, although there is still a decreasing trend when compared to the number of minors hosted, while 2014 showed an increase not only in total figures (2,712 unaccounted for, which was still below the 3,804 of 2006), but also on the rate of minors hosted (29,4%).
Figure 6 – UAM in first reception and unaccounted for UAFM, years 2006-2014 (total figures and percentages)
Source: Giovannetti (2016)
As in 2014, minors who became untraceable accounted for approximately 13% of the total number of minors placed in second reception (1,082 out of 8,448), an increase compared to 2013 (where it was 10,4%) but with similar percentages to the previous two-year term (12.7% in 2012). It is worth noting how much the percentage has changed when compared to the values recorded in the first annual survey (2006-2008) when the percentage of untraceable minors out of the total number placed in secondary care fluctuated between 20 and more than 30%.
Figure 7– UAM in secondary care facilities that became untraceable, years 2006-2014 (total figures and percentages)
Source: Giovannetti (2016)
4 Protection and assistance of unaccompanied foreign minors: from shared governance to structuring a reception and integration system at the national level
The extreme complexity of the requirements of protecting minors combined with the unique socio-cultural characteristics of UAM and their migration mandate has occasionally clashed with the lack of dedicated tools and resources. With this in mind the national association of Italian municipalities has over the course of the years communicated to the central authorities (in particular in the context of the national coordination committee) the urgent need to approach the UAM issue by structuring a number of ordinary and ongoing operations in support of the municipalities involved, instead of continuing to work according to an emergency-type logic.
On 10 July 2014 the Italian government, regions and municipalities implemented the national plan to face the extraordinary flow of non-EU adult citizens, families and unaccompanied minors and inaugurated a new approach to the reception of unaccompanied foreign minors, assigning to the Ministry of the Interior the responsibility for organizing their reception, thus surpassing the previous regime, which distinguished unaccompanied minors seeking asylum (a responsibility of the Ministry of Interior) from non-asylum seekers (a responsibility that was almost exclusively up to local authorities).
2014 was defined not only by the arrival of over 170,000 migrants by sea, (i.e. on average, 14,200 people arrived in Italy every month, with more than 460 people per day) but also by a number of institutional interventions aimed at redefining the reception system for unaccompanied minors detected throughout the country. In particular, with the agreement ratified during the Joint Conference, the need to implement a governance system to oversee UAM was highlighted, by committing the Ministry of the Interior to increase the capacity of the SPRAR, so as to ensure the reception of all minors (whether asylum seekers or not) and to define procedures aimed at their immediate reception. In the event of temporary unavailability at the above mentioned facilities, the assistance and reception of minors are temporarily provided by the municipality where the minor is located, as the provisions of the National Coordination Committee. The Committee, established as the provisions of Article 15 of Legislative Decree. No. 142/2015 at the Ministry of the Interior, is responsible for planning the activities of the reception system. Municipalities granting reception activities will access the contributions provided by the Ministry of the Interior in the National Fund for unaccompanied minors. The Fund, established by the 2015 Stability Law (Law 190/2015, art. 1, para. 181-182) by the Ministry of the Interior, shall paid to municipalities by the prefectures based on the number of reception days provided during the year.
The National Plan provided for the reception of UAM in two phases:
1. First level of care - activation of highly specialized governmental structures aimed at identification, assessing age and status, in order to accelerate their potential reunification with relatives, even if located in other EU countries, as identified and authorized by the Regions in coordination with the Ministry of Interior;
2. Second level of care for all unaccompanied foreign minors as part of the SPRAR, duly strengthened and financed.
Basically, this system, which confers jurisdiction to the Ministry of Interior and no longer to the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, is structured by activating the various government resources located throughout the territory and focused on very short-term reception, for the first identification stage (including the assessment of age and status), planning for subsequent reception with the appropriate enhancements to the capacity of the SPRAR network, as part of the specific territorial projects. Therefore, implementing the provisions ratified in Article. 183 of Law 190/2014, the SPRAR is increasingly configured to be the national reception system for all unaccompanied minors, after they have gone through the first reception stage that is spent in specially assigned government facilities. As network of local authorities, the SPRAR carries out integrated hosting projects guaranteeing actions beyond mere food and lodging, providing complementary information, follow-up, assistance and guidance activities through the development of individual pathways to socio-economic integration. This integrated approach regards the public nature of the resources provided; the cooperation between the Ministry of the Interior and the local authorities; the voluntary participation of local authorities in the network of reception projects; the decentralization of "integrated reception" activities; the synergies established throughout the territory with so-called "management bodies", non-profit organizations that make a vital contribution to the implementation of activities; the promotion and development of local networks, with the involvement of all stakeholders and key partners for the success of all reception, protection, and integration activities, for the benefit of all international protection applicants and beneficiaries.
This structure was later confirmed by Legislative Decree 142/2015 "Implementation of EU Directive 2013/33 establishing regulations for the reception of international protection seekers, and of EU Directive 2013/32 on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection", which details the stages of reception highlighting in detail the role of the various stakeholders.
5 The regulatory framework and the minor’s path as defined by the policies and in practice by the reception system
An unaccompanied foreign minor, as per the definition provided by art. 2 of Legislative Decree 142/2015 (paragraph 1 letter e) is "any alien under the age of 18, that for whatever reason is within the territory of the State without assistance and legal representation", which identifies him/her as a vulnerable person that may require special assistance measures.
Any foreign minor that is received at the points of landing, or that shows up, either alone or accompanied (by an organization, association, private individuals, etc.), for social territorial assistance, and who is without family or relatives, is offered emergency reception in government facilities of first level care or in emergency reception communities affiliated with the local authority.
After having received the minor, the local social services must notify the relevant offices - Directorate General for Immigration and Integration Policies, Police Headquarters, Juvenile Court, Magistracy - of the presence of the unaccompanied minor so that procedures to clarify the child’s position (unaccompanied status, identification and age) can be initiated, and in order to trace the child’s family, both in Italy and in his/her country of origin/residence. In the meantime, social services must provide the minor with care and protection; in this case, social services:
· Meet and interview the minor in order to evaluate his/her situation;
· Notify the Directorate General for Immigration and Integration Policies - after the recent abolition of the Committee for Foreign Minors- of the presence of the minor and request Family Tracing and Assessment activities to be carried out, with the aim of verifying whether the socio-economic conditions in the country of origin are conducive to the implementation of a sustainable reunification.
· Notify the Juvenile Court of the presence of the minor in order to ensure that procedures can be initiated for the appointment of a legal guardian (a relative, the local authority, a voluntary citizen, duly trained in order to serve as the minor’s legal guardian);
· Define, with the participation of the minor and the reception center, an educational project (which, in general, envisages an initial observation and the minor’s enrolment in an Italian language course);
· Commence the procedure for the identification of the minor;
· Initiate, with the relevant Police Headquarters, the procedures for the regularization of the minor’s status as a permanent resident;
· Notify the Juvenile Court of the presence of the minor so as to ensure that the procedures for entrusting the minor’s custody to relatives, a foster family, an individual person - Italian or a fellow countryman - can be initiated, in accordance with Law No. 184/1983 on foster care and adoption.
While the minor is in the care of the social services, the staff of the reception center where he/she has been accommodated have the duty to define a socio-educational integration project: minors can be enrolled in Italian language courses and, when required by law, in the school system. Moreover, minors can join entertainment activities and play sport – this is in order to facilitate the process of socialization.
Should no relatives of the minor be traced, no request for Assisted Voluntary Return be advanced, and no possibility to entrust the minor’s custody to a foster family occur by the end of the period of temporary reception, social services have to define a long term program and identify a second stage reception center or a foster family in which the minor will be able to pursue the planned program until he/she turns eighteen.
During this phase, the minors’ education shall focus on training and work experience in line with the possibilities offered by local resources: education (schooling, permanent local or professional training centers), work experience opportunities or apprenticeships are the most frequently used means in order to promote minors’ integration in Italian society. Throughout this phase, and until the moment in which the minor turns eighteen, social services have a paramount role in planning and implementing various activities to provide the minor with the instruments that he/she will use when he/she will reach the age of eighteen and will have to leave the reception center.
In some cases, social services, with the collaboration of relevant Police Headquarters and the Juvenile Court, can entrust the minor’s custody to relatives or fellow-countrymen when evidence exists on their capability to fulfil the minor’s needs, and to provide for his/her education. These are the cases of minors who are hosted by relatives and fellow-countrymen and who don’t have a legal guardian, who address social services in order to obtain a regular permit of stay because of minor age. Foster care placement can be decided by the Juvenile Court after a judicial proceeding; if foster care placements have been established on a mutual consent basis, they can be implemented by Social Services and executed by the Juvenile Court.
In order to promote both full and part-time foster care of minors with families and private individuals, some municipalities have developed hetero- and intra-cultural fostering programs, ratified by the Juvenile Court and implemented by the relevant social services. Furthermore, social services - in particular, social workers, educators, and cultural mediators - define a specific project with the aim of supporting foreign minors and their foster families and monitoring the situation; moreover, they have to regularly inform and update the Juvenile Court. However, a minor’s reception and assistance does not imply automatic integration in the Italian context, but it could lead to a minor’s voluntary repatriation.
In this case, social services identify unaccompanied minors and forward their personal information to the Committee for Foreign Minors. At this stage, the Committee - with the collaboration of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) - can implement family tracing and assessment activities in the Country of origin/residence of the minor; this is in order to ascertain the minor’s willingness to return, and his/her family’s situation, and to verify whether the socio-economic conditions of the context of origin are conducive to the definition of sustainable reintegration. In the light of the outcomes of family tracing and assessment activities - which should be closed within 30 days of the beginning of the procedure - the Committee can approve an Assisted Voluntary Return decree; however, when the Committee considers that the minor’s return does not correspond to the child’s best interest, it can adopt a nonsuit return decree in order to allow the minor to stay in Italy. In general, the Committee takes this decision on the basis of the following indicative criteria (Giovanetti 2010):
1. The Committee adopts a non-suit return decree in cases in which:
· In the Country of origin, there are neither relatives nor relevant authorities willing to take care of the minor: the ratio of this criterion arises from the ultimate scope of AVR procedure, that is the minor’s reunification with his family unit or the entrusting of his/her custody to relevant authorities;
· The return would put the minor’s well-being at risk (for instance, when the minor could be victim of persecution, or his/her country of origin is in a ‘state of war’).
2. The Committee has to implement an AVR decree when:
· The minor’s return is requested by his or her parents or legal guardian;
· There is evidence that the reasons behind the minor’s migration were not approved by his/her parents (for example, when the minor runs away from home).
However, it should be noted that the above-mentioned criteria should be interpreted as flexible parameters and their application has to be evaluated with regard to each specific case. When assessing a minor’s best interests, the Committee gives priority to the opinion of the minor and his/her family and the minor’s condition and integration in the Italian context. Only in exceptional cases, the Committee evaluates the socio-economic conditions of the minor’s family and the minor’s context of origin. That being said, the minor’s return has to be implemented having regard to the minor’s rights, as established by international conventions, laws, and decrees by a juridical authority. Furthermore, return has to be done taking all indispensable measures in order to safeguard and respect the minor’s psychological conditions (Giovannetti 2010).
The data gathered in the past years and compiled in national reports on unaccompanied minors highlights the growing relevance of a commitment by Government Authorities in hosting and placing unaccompanied minors in safe places. A commitment that no longer involves solely the municipalities of large cities, which reassert their commitment to taking care of unattended minors, but that more and more involves municipalities with populations under 100,000; this model (positive in and of itself since it confirms the distributed model of Italian integration that sees even in smaller territorial and administrative areas better chances for integration) must undoubtedly be encouraged, however without underestimating the difficulties incurred by local authorities, in terms of human and financial resources, and the underlying complexity of balancing said resources. As revealed by the data gathered, the scope of the commitment and effort required by medium and small municipalities stresses the need to support them and assist them in these efforts to ensure the protection for unaccompanied minors.
Even though the reception system has now been outlined (both in the Understanding of 2014 and in Legislative Decree no. 142 of 2015), currently the reception path is still unstructured and poorly defined. Taking custody of unaccompanied minors in Italy is still, to this day, defined by the strong heterogeneity of social and socio-educational policies, by the absence of a unified social reference model and by fallback on various different local structures. At the local level, in terms of social policies, we find heterogeneous models of intervention, which use (as main sources of protection and assistance) immediate shelter and request for appointment of a guardian, followed by notification to the pertinent authority, the request for a residence permit, an age assessment and the activation of a contact with the original family. The difficulty in identifying a unified model for intervention stems from the strong dynamics and continuous evolution of this phenomenon, as well as from the different ways of managing care that have been structured at the local level, more so influenced by the interactions between the stakeholders involved in taking custody of the child, rather than being conditioned by specific shared protocols and guidelines.
So as to actually achieve a structured reception and integration system, the following areas seem to require more urgent corrective public interventions:
· Increase the capacity of the first level and second level care reception networks;
· Grant the Municipalities adequate financial resources for providing custody,
· especially in the light of unique conditions of vulnerability;
· Avoid creating special circles devoted exclusively to unaccompanied foreign minors, but rather enhance diversified services suited to the specific requirements of each minor within the existing structures for the custody of minors;
· Guarantee prompt timeframes for the appointment of a guardian that is competent, has the available timeframe and disposition to effectively carry out its role, as well as for the granting of the residence permit;
· Guarantee precise assessment of age by means of appropriate procedures;
· Guarantee effective compliance with the principle of higher interest of the minor, which is the guiding principle of the protection system for minors, through the systematic implementation of effective operational procedures for its enhancement;
· Guarantee the minor’s full participation and respect to his/her right to be heard;
· Reduce the minor’s exposure to risk and abuse as a result of their premature separation from the structures, through a prompt family tracing procedure and timely identification of any opportunities to reunite the minor with his/her family as long as this is in the minor’s higher interest;
· Guarantee effective synergy and collaboration amongst the various stakeholders operating at the centralized level and structured throughout the territory.
Finally, in order to properly care for unaccompanied minors, it is essential to implement an integrated perspective on policy at the national level, exactly like it was done for shelter, moving towards an integrated system for the integration of unaccompanied foreign minors. This would allow the territories - and by this we refer both to public administrations, as well as the overall structure of public and local communities - to provide adequate care and delivery of services devoid of the risk of welfarism or infantilization of the minors, since, on the contrary, the goal is to accompany them on their path to independence. Starting with the institutional mandate at all levels to protect a minor, but more specifically in the event of UAM, any failure of the measures taken for effective integration will result in an even more serious problem for the territories, since these minors lack a family ready to fall back on in the event of any potential failures.
Likewise, national youth policies aimed at education and on integration into the labor force, whenever they involve special routes for UAM, must pursue the objective of developing the necessary integration of policy, first and foremost in accordance with the principles of equality and equal opportunity. This would simultaneously allow enhancing the resources allocated, qualifying and strengthening a system of services across the various needs of a minor or a young adult. This is why we must avoid activating separate or pre-defined technical interventions. Rather, we must develop a continuous process for capacity building aimed at strengthening a multidimensional approach through shared work that involves every stakeholder (central government, local governments, economic and social partners, NGOs, universities and schools, etc.) so as to achieve a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses and, therefore, of the possible solutions to ensure equality and citizenship opportunities that are still taking into account very specific needs.
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Cittalia – Fondazione Ricerche e Studi ANCI
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 In particular, in 2015 the minor asylum-seekers in 78 countries have been 98,400 (in particular by Afghans, Eritreans, Syrians and Somalis) as were 34,300 in 2014 and 25,300 in 2013. See (UNHCR 2002; 2012,; 2014; 2015; 2016)/ Mougne 2010/ Troeller 2010/ Boland 2010).
 On this topic, see: Report on the situation of unaccompanied minors in the EU (2012/2263(INI)), Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, August, 26th 2013; EU Parliament Resolution on the situation of unaccompanied minors in the EU (2012/2263(INI)), September, 12th, 2013. For a comprehensive analysis on the state of the issue in EU MSs, see: Reps (2011); Senovilla Hernández (2008; 2013); Keith, L. & Levoy, M. (2015); Spanda Foundation (2014); UNHCR/Council of Europe (2014); European Migration Network (2015); Dimitrova-Stull, A. (2015); Nisrine Eba (2015).
 For further information see L’Opinion (2012).
 Unaccompanied minors’ stands for third-country nationals or stateless persons below the age of eighteen, who enter the territory of the Member States unaccompanied by an adult responsible for them whether by law or custom, and for as long as they are not effectively taken into the care of such a person, or minors who are left unaccompanied after they have entered the territory of the Member States.
 On this issue, see qualitative researches produced by Giovannetti (2000, 2002, 2007); Campani, Lapov & Carchedi (2002); Bertozzi (2005); Campani, & Salimbeni (2006); Candia, Carchedi, Giannotta & Tarzia (2009); Bosisio (2011); Vacchiano (2012). A more literary approach on the phenomenon of ‘children on the move’ is proposed by Shiri & Abbate (2007); Affinati (2008); Geda (2010); Mismetti Capua (2011).
 The last case refers to those immigrants who play the role of testimonials: when they come back to their Countries of origin, they represent the image of migrants who have been able to take advantage of the opportunities offered in Italy, and have succeeded in improving their living conditions.
 Migration culture is deep-rooted in the social context to which those minors belong; this culture represents: “la quotidianità, l’immaginario collettivo, il vissuto personale e familiare, l’evoluzione dell’habitat culturale e urbano. L’emigrazione costituisce la scelta della quotidianità e una pratica che diventa sempre più pervasiva nella storia e nell’evoluzione della città stessa e dei suoi abitanti.” (in Italian in the original text) (Fantanuzzi 2009).
 The majority of Moroccan minors come from Khouribga, Beni Mellal, and Beni Meskine. Vacchiano (2007) has developed an interesting analysis on the migration of the young ‘harraga’. ‘Harraga’ is a word belonging to the Moroccan and Algerian dialects, and it is used to describe those people who travel without proper documentation. In fact, ‘harraga’ originates from the Arabic term ‘haraqa’, meaning ‘to burn’: in Arabic, migrants don’t say: ‘I’ve travelled irregularly’, but: ‘I’ve burned the borders.’
 See Law No. 142/1990, and Law No. 59/1997. With regard to social policies, a comprehensive legal framework was set by Law No. 328/2000, ‘Legge quadro per la realizzazione del sistema integrato di interventi e servizi sociali’ that organized all relevant social services through a network based on the principle of subsidiarity. In this case, subsidiarity has a double facet: it is a ‘vertical’ subsidiarity since Municipalities define and carry out their action with the collaboration of other relevant institutions (ASL (health unit), Regions), and it is a ‘horizontal’ subsidiarity since it based on the recognition of the role and tasks of third-sector associations and their integration in a coherent and coordinated local system (Caponio 2004). As a consequence, the new legislative framework shapes a multigovernance system, in which each institutional level is entrusted with specific assignments, whilst maintaining an integrated approach (Gargiulo 2008).
 Law No. 328, November, 8th 2000, ‘Legge quadro per la realizzazione del sistema integrato di interventi e servizi sociali’.
 For a comprehensive overview of the most controversial legislative and juridical issues that have led to the definition of a ‘variable-geometry’ UAM juridical status, see: Turri (1999); Miazzi (1999; 2002; 2006; 2008a;b; 2009; ); Moyersoen & Tarzia (2002); Tarzia (2008); Perin (2008), Miazzi & Perin (2009); Consoli, Giovannetti & Zorzella (2011); Biondi Dal Monte (2013); Anzaldi & Guarnieri (2014). For more details on the implications, coming from the different institutional and non-institutional responsibilities see also Matarese (2014); Biondi Dal Monte (2014).
 See articles 2,3, and 4 of Law No. 184/83 and art. No. 403 of the Civil Code. In accordance with art. 37 bis of Law 184/1983, unaccompanied minors on the territory of the Italian State shall benefit from the legislative provisions concerning adoption, foster care, and the measures to be implemented in case of urgency. Moreover, through the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the principle of the best interest of the child has become a leading criterion within the Italian legal framework concerning minors (Legislative decree 286/98, art. 28, § 3 TU); furthermore, in accordance with art. 19 TU of Legislative Decree 286/98 foreign minors cannot be expelled.
 Art. 12, §20, of Decree-Law 06.07.2012, No. 95 - converted with amendments by Law 07.08.2012, No 135 - abolished the Committee for Foreign Minors and transferred its duties and responsibilities to the Directorate General for Immigration and Integration Policies of the Ministry.
 Articles Nos. 1, 2, and 5 of the Decree 9.12.1999 No. 535 of the President of the Council of Ministers. See OIM, 2014.
 Social Services must notify the Juvenile Court of the presence of the minor in order to ensure that the procedures for the appointment of a legal guardian can be promptly initiated. In fact, in the light of art. 343 of the Italian Civil Code, the appointment of the minor’s legal guardian is of paramount importance since the legal guardian is actively involved in all administrative and/or judicial procedures concerning the minor. Moreover, in accordance with the provision laid down in art. No. 2 of Law No. 184/1983 regarding guardianship of minors temporarily deprived of a family environment, the minor’s interim protective custody - the so-called institute of ‘public and private assistance’ – should represent a short-term solution, and within a month it must be converted into an ordinary guardianship; 2. In order to be considered effective, guardianship cannot be entrusted to the Mayor or to an employee of the Municipalities and carried out as a purely administrative task; 3. Legal guardians must have the professional qualifications and training to work with this vulnerable category of migrants.
Art. No. 28 of Presidential Decree (DPR) 394/99, amended by subsequent Presidential Decree 334/2004 introduced the following types of residence permit: 1) residence permit for the social and civic integration of the minor, when the requisites established by art. 32, § 1 and 1 ter of the Consolidation Act No, 286/98 are adequately met; 2) residence permit for family reasons/guardianship; 3) residence permit ‘for minor children’ when the family tracing and assessment activities in favor of the minor have been initiated (this type of residence permit cannot be renewed when the minor turns 18); 4) residence permit for social protection reasons/asylum request, in accordance with art. No. 18, § 1 and 6 of the Legislative Decree 286/98 (for foreign minors who were victims of trafficking or exploitation and for those who were convicted of a crime before the age of eighteen).
 Reading a contrariis art. 9 of the Law No. 184/93, it emerges that minor’s custody can be de facto entrusted to regularly residing fourth degree relatives (without any official measures).
 Art. 33, § 1 of Consolidation Act No. 286/98; articles 2 and 7 of Decree 9.12.1999 No. 535 of the President of the Council of Ministers. See OIM (2014).
 Art. 2, § 2 of Decree 9.12.1999 No. 535 of the President of the Council of Ministers; Circular of the Ministry of Interior, 9.04.2001.
 An ‘Assisted Voluntary Return’ measure has to be established having regard to the minor’s right to protection and with the aim of guaranteeing family unity. See art. 33 of Consolidation Act No. 286/98; articles 2, 5, and 7 of Decree 9.12.1999 No. 535 by the President of the Council of Ministers. See OIM (2014).
 In accordance with art. 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
 For a complete overview concerning the Anci reports on unaccompanied foreign minors published this decade, see: Giovannetti & Orlandi (2006); Giovannetti (2008d; 2009; 2012; 2014).