Italy: increasing numbers of refugee children choose a perilous journey in search of a better future

A new Education International study reveals the immense challenge facing Italian authorities and education personnel to help the thousands of unaccompanied minors safely integrate into society after reaching European shores.

Of the 28,223 refugee minors who landed on Italy’s beaches in 2016, representing 15.5 percent of all those who arrived by sea, 91.5 percent of them travelled without an adult. These staggering figures, which have seen a steady increase since 2014, show no sign of abating.

Gaining access to education is one of the many hurdles facing the children once they make it to Italy, which is the focus of Education International (EI)’s latest study, “The Journey of Hope: Education for Refugee and Unaccompanied Children in Italy.”

The report carefully examines the process of providing children with social protection and getting them into school. The work, which was carried out in the provinces of Lombardy, Piedmont, Latium, Campania, Catania, Palermo and Trapani, is derived from research and interviews with teachers and education support personnel, social workers, experts and authorities between August and November of last year.

The study finds that greater effort is needed to get unaccompanied minors out of so-called dangerous ‘hotspots’ to safe accommodation quickly, including appointing a legal guardian and the issuing of legal documents to get them into school. Even better, the report says, would be to allow all unaccompanied minors to enrol in school even without proper documentation.

Even though immigrant minors have a right to education in Italy, researchers found that more efforts are needed once children receive a place in the classroom. Most notably was the absence of sustained professional help focused on linguistic and cultural mediation, which is crucial following a minor’s arrival.

Part of the problem in providing adequate services is due to a lack of funding. With only a million Euros put aside by the ministry each year for linguistic support, teachers say that the needs far exceed the resources. However, the study says that with greater funding the excellent practices developed by teachers, education workers and their schools could be better utilised by the system as a whole for refugees.

Researchers also found that despite Italy’s provision of a high level of protection for asylum-seeking and unaccompanied minors, thus helping them access the education system, more attention is required when it comes to monitoring the process. This is especially the case for children who opt to go ‘underground,’ many of whom leave Italy in search of other destinations.

Click here to read the full report.






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