Foreign children living in Italy are in a growing number, as well as those children that enter the country from the sea, or from the north-east borders , in spite of the risks of their journey and the uncertain future.
They are often alone, or with smugglers or exploiters: most of them think of improving their economic conditions, especially their families; others are escaping from the war and the violence, like the increasing number of Afghan children.
The total numbers 6,587 unaccompanied foreign children arrived in Italy in 2009. In order to pursuit their migration plan, children often escape from the welcome centres that host them in Italy: they disappear for a while, and then they turn up again miles away. The international association Save the Children has edited its first report on the theme “Foreign children in Italy”.
Because of the lack of a centralized system that reveal the presence of minor immigrants and because of their “invisibility” especially when unaccompanied or being children of illegal parents, official data are not exact about the actual number on under 18 in our country.
Their presence is rising more and more. In the last 6 years in fact the number of resident minors grew up considerably, from 412.432 on January 1st 2004 to 862.453 on January 1st 2009. Most of the resident foreign minors were born in Italy: about 519.000.
The remaining 343.753 represent those minors being reunited to their families. The percentage of the foreign children born out of the total number of those born in Italy has changed from 2,5% in 1997 to 12,6% in 2008. The first five provinces where there is the highest number of resident minors are: Milan (81.497, of which 68,3% born in Italy), Rome (71.170, of which 70% born in Italy), Turin (41.141, of which 57,2% born in Italy), Brescia (40.288, of which 60,2% born in Italy), Bergamo (26.711, of which 59,2% born in Italy).
To the minors that live with their families, both legally and illegally residents, we have to add the foreign minors that arrive on their own, “unaccompanied”. Up to September 30th 2009 there were 6,587 registrations to the Foreign Minor Commission. 77% (5,091) have not been identified, that is without an identification document.
The minors registered come form 77 different countries, mainly African.
The most numerous national groups are from Morocco (15% of the total), Egypt (14%), Albania (11%), Afghanistan (11%), Palestine (7%), Somalia (4%), Eritrea (4%), Nigeria (4%) Serbian Republic (4%).
The males are 90% of the total. More than the half of the minors are 17 years old. Also the percentage of 16 year olds is relevant, 24%.
Smaller is the number of 15 year olds (822, 12%) and of those of different ages (691 are between 7 and 14 year old, 49 between 0 and 6 year old).
The overall number of minors between 15 and 17 year old is 5,847. 74% of the minors registered are accommodated at welcome centres, whereas 16% are accommodated at relatives’, brothers and sisters’, compatriots’, or foster children. Finally, 70 minors are in Child Prisons.
If we compare the data referred to last year (end of September 2008-2009), it results that the Egyptian and Afghan minors have grown, whereas Moroccan, Albanian and Palestinian minors have decreased: the former have increased from 906 to 962, Afghan form 614 to 743. Regarding the access of those children and adolescents, during 2008, 2,749 foreign minors landed on the coasts of the southern regions, 95% in Sicily, in the province of Agrigento, and specifically in Lampedusa. According to the report made by the Borders and Foreigners Police, in 2008 about 210 foreign minors arrived in Italy from the costs of Ancona and Venice.
There are no data referred to the arrivals from land borders. Generally speaking, other significant border accesses seem to be Fiumicino (Rome), Gorizia, Brindisi, Ancona and Malpensa (Milan). In all these cases, the most part is made of unaccompanied minors.
According to the testimonies collected by the operators, it seems that, in order to reach Italy, families have to pay the smugglers an average amount between 4,700 and 5,500 Euros, which only allow them to arrive in our country, via Sicily; the internal journeys, the job opportunities and the accommodation are not included in the “contract”. Some parents often sell all their assets to invest on their children’s future, whereas others seem to sign an agreement with the smugglers, a debt to paid off at the end of their journey. Although it is not a valid contract, the minor’s family has to pay often through bills. In case of failure of the money due, the families can be victims of a criminal offence and, in the worst cases, of a detention by the smugglers.
Their increasing migration is more similar to an escape, sometimes from persecutions, some others from local conflicts, and especially recently from a jeopardized and unstable condition in Afghanistan. Italy is in their migration plan only a passage rather than a final destination.
A passage towards Great Britain for the Afghan Pashtun, or towards Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria (the cheapest option for those with no money or photographed in Italy or in Greece), for the Hazara.
From the experience on the field by Save the Children, 70% of the Afghan minors leave from Pakistan or Iran, after living there for a while.
Most of them escape for safety reasons, few of them have families to reunite to.
80% of those that are sent back to Afghanistan try the journey again. On the border between Iran and Turkey, there are groups of smugglers that, along with petrol and other goods, work for the passage of human beings.
The escaping children are carried with the petrol on horses, five at once, and once arrived in Turkey they are released.
Those who are sent back by the Borders Police are captured by the smugglers that ask for a ransom (about 300 Euros) to the families.
The amount is added up to 1,000-2,000 Euros necessary to reach Italy on a boat either from Turkey or Greece.
The children land in Ancona or in Venice, hidden and tied under the trucks. From Marche or Veneto they arrive in Rome (where there are 15/20 of them a week), from where eventually they move on the last part of their journey towards Northern Europe, after being on the road for several days and in terrible condition.
Italy and particularly Rome are the favourite destinations of their migration flow since there are lots of compatriots here.
The journey may cost from 3,000 to 6,000 Euros but, according to the testimonies collected by the operators of Save the Children, this money is not due or bound to a loan to pay back by working.
A minority of minors from Bangladesh reach Italy by plane. The majority of them travel by land employing 8 months on average, along the same route done by the Afghan migrants: they cross India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece and then Italy.
Some say they arrived in Sicily from the sea (after Turkey, they go to Libia instead of Greece), they escaped from welcome centres and reached Rome thanks to their compatriots, at whom some of the children stay also for a long time.
It is possible that this “accommodation” may cost them a period of work as street-sellers of fake jewellery and gadgets. None of them, while telling the operators of Save the Children about their working experience in Italy, mention any form of exploitation, although there is evidence of a recurrent frequency of the phenomenon.
Save the Chidren report “Foreign minors in Italy”
The welcoming of the minors arriving from the sea.