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February 2015 – January 2016
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Italy: Psychosocial Support for Unaccompanied Migrant Minors

The Context

Over the last 10 years more than 6,000 people have died or disappeared trying to reach Italy by crossing the Strait of Sicily.

On 21 April the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reported that, since January 2015, a total of 36,390 migrants had reached Italy, Greece and Malta by sea and that of those, 15,000 had arrived in Italy.

In an effort to reduce the risks linked to such journeys, the Italian Government launched operation Mare Nostrum in October 2013, which rescued more than 100,000 people. At the end of 2014, however, Mare Nostrum was replaced with the much smaller operation Triton, managed by the EU under the FRONTEX Program. Triton focuses only on border control rather than on rescuing people.

Under Italian law, children arriving in the country without their families automatically come under the care of the Ministry of the Interior. The law stipulates that the children are to be housed in emergency shelters and then moved on to foster homes and placed in integration and education programs. Unfortunately, as Sicilian authorities buckle under the weight of the influx of migrants, children are being left with little protection, in overcrowded and decaying primary aid centers for months.

Furthermore, the municipalities’ lack of financial resources, the slowness of transfer, the lack of basic services, proper assistance and legal protection, all push children to escape from the centers. This puts a considerable number of children at high risk of becoming victims of violence and exploitation.

Our Project

The project was implemented over the past four years by Terre des Hommes (TdH) Italy in collaboration with the Prefecture of Syracuse. It contributes to making the Italian reception system of unaccompanied migrant minors and children with families more in line with their needs and the principles of a human-rights-based protection.

This project specifically aims to provide ad hoc psychosocial and psychological support to both unaccompanied migrant minors and children hosted in the primary aid centers of Papa Francesco in Priolo and Le Zagare in Melilli in Syracuse and Villa Montevago in Caltagirone in Catania, Sicily.

Beneficiaries mainly come from Sub-Saharan Africa and have to pass through Lybia, where they experience forced detention and torture. This leaves them strongly traumatized and in need of psychological support.

There are currently three persons covering all the centers: a psychologist, an Arab-speaking linguistic and cultural mediator, and an expert in psychosocial activities/sociologist. The team is supervised by TdH Italy and Dr. Roberto Beneduce and Dr. Simona Taliani, two of the most internationally-recognized psychiatrists.

The project is implemented taking into account each minor’s specific needs in order to tailor the activities accordingly and avoid forcing or pressuring them.

Specific training on the psychological and psychosocial approach adopted by FARO will also be delivered to local authorities throughout the year. Trainees will all receive a copy of the TdH Psychosocial Handbook to help them manage the centers around the children’s needs.

Our Partner

Terre des Hommes Italy

Our Activities

The project runs along two main axes:

1. Psychological support conducted by a psychologist with specific experience in ethnopsychiatry (the study of mental illnesses from a cross-cultural perspective) and migration. The child has access to individual psychological support that is designed according to his or her specific needs. The most vulnerable cases are referred to the public health services.

2. Psychosocial activities which are organized and conducted by a sociologist with the support of a mediator. These activities include:

  • Welcoming and orienteering – to make first contact with the minors and share basic information and needs
  • Italian language courses organized by dividing migrants into small groups according to their first language (English, French or Arabic)
  • Recreational activities such as film projections, the creation of a library, psychosocial laboratories with musical support, sport activities and video projections about life conditions at the centers (to promote a sensitization campaign in the migrants’ countries of origin)
  • Skill and Competencies Analysis – this requires an initial interview to choose the best social inclusion program in the community where the child is to be transferred