ITALY: Scores of migrant boat children sent to care facilities, but hundreds still waiting

[6 March 2015] - Another 88 children have been placed in child care facilities in Sicily, as the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea continues to spiral. 

This latest group of children was transferred by ferry from the initial reception centre on Lampedusa to Sicily.

The children, including 85 who were unaccompanied, had spent almost two weeks in a facility designed to accommodate people for just 48 hours, owing to adverse weather conditions affecting the ferry service to and from Lampedusa.

To date, a total of more than 700 unaccompanied children are still living in initial reception facilities in Italy while they wait to be placed in children’s homes, where they will begin the long-term process of integration into Italian society.

The placement of the children into Italian care on February 28 came just days before a frantic 24 hour period on 4 March which saw nearly 1,000 migrants rescued, including Syrian children. At least ten people died after their boat capsized.

 “The journey these children haven taken often involves crossing deserts and war zones before they even reach the treacherous sea crossing to Europe. On route they face dehydration and malnutrition, kidnap, detention and extortion, torture, child slavery, trafficking, sexual abuse, all alone without their families,” said Valerio Neri, director of Save the Children Italy.

 “It is essential that the rescue at sea of migrants is a priority for Italy and for Europe, and that the European Union strengthen its capacity for search and rescue missions, as more people than ever are risking their lives making this perilous journey on rickety boats.”

 Children interviewed by Save the Children teams in Lampedusa have recounted extremely disturbing stories of their journeys, from their country of origin to the transit point in Libya, and then on via boat to Italy. They are often deeply distressed upon arrival with many unaware of where they have landed.

 Some children have been exploited and abused by traffickers, and others have told of being handcuffed and beaten in Libyan detention cells until their families could send money for the crossing to Italy

 The illegal boats in which they travel are overcrowded, prone to leaks, and break down regularly in the open sea. One 16-year-old boy told staff that he witnessed fellow migrants pushed over board by the traffickers because they were ill and weak.

 The majority of the unaccompanied children who have arrived in Italy by boat this year, through Libya, are from Eritrea and Somalia, while others are from sub-Saharan and West Africa, including the Gambia, Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Nigeria and Guinea. Most of the families and accompanied children arriving have been Syrians.

 Save the Children runs a ‘Children on the Move’ programme across Italy, which aims to identify children’s individual needs and refer them to the appropriate social services to ensure their protection. The agency also monitors the standards of service in the various reception facilities where minors are transferred. 

 In Rome and Milan, Save the Children provides basic facilities (shower, change of clothes, and food), health services, legal advice, support in contacting family members, and recreational and educational activities for children.

  • This year* 7,882 people have travelled from Libya by boat to reach the coast of Italy. 
  • January and February 2015 showed a staggering increase of 69% more migrants arriving than in the same period last year.
  • Despite efforts by the Italian coast guard, from February 13-17, more than 300 migrants were shipwrecked and died at sea, including many children. According to testimonies collected from survivors, another 50 migrants, including children were shipwrecked and died on 4 March. 10 dead bodies have already been brought to Sicily.

*Figures from Italian authorities up to the end of February 2015.

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