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September 7, 2016 – At least 28 unaccompanied children went missing each day from Italy’s reception centres for refugees and migrants in the first six months of 2016, said international agency Oxfam in a report released today.
The children have run away from what are de-facto detention centres which are unsafe, offer inadequate accommodation and where they receive little or no information about what they are entitled to. They have fled to live on the streets and are exposed to even greater risks.
Oxfam said that this is yet another example of how Europe’s current approach to migration isn’t fit for purpose.
Natalia Alonso, Oxfam International’s Deputy Director for Campaigns and Advocacy said: “The appalling experience of children in Italy is a harsh indicator of the failure of European governments and the Italian authorities to protect children coming in search of safety.
“It also exposes the failure of Europe’s wider policy approach to place the responsibilities of managing a common border upon only a few European countries. Europe must stand together to welcome the people arriving here, who are fleeing from conflict, persecution and other unbearable situations.”
Since governments closed the Western Balkan route into Europe and the European Union entered into its deal with Turkey, Italy is the principal arrival point for refugees and migrants to Europe. According to the latest UNHCR data, the number of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy has risen significantly in 2016, and now accounts for 15 percent of all arrivals. By the end of July this year, 13,705 unaccompanied children had landed in Italy – more than during all of 2015 (12,360 children).
Italy is failing to cope with the increased arrivals. ‘Hotspot’ centres, set up by the EU and Italian authorities to register new arrivals and execute swifter returns of those rejected, are chronically overcrowded and lack adequate sanitation. While the maximum stay in these ‘hotspots’ is meant to be 48-72 hours, many children end up being stuck in them for as long as five weeks without a change of clothes, not even their underwear, and unable to call their family back home or relatives in Europe.
The situation in centres where children are transferred after registration is in many cases no better than at the hotspots. Oxfam has also collected testimonies of cases where there have been allegations of abuse and violence, which have not been dealt with by the management.
Oxfam is calling on the Italian government and its European partners to take immediate action to provide unaccompanied children with safe and adequate accommodation and the support they need.