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UNICEF: new Italian law to protect unaccompanied refugee and migrant children is model for Europe

ROME/GENEVA, MARCH 30 – The new Italian law for the protection of unaccompanied foreign children is a model for the entire European Union: UNICEF welcomed the Italian Parliament for passing the “historic” measure which will boost support  for the record number of refugee and migrant unaccompanied and separated children who arrived in Italy – nearly 26,000 in 2016.  “With nearly 2,000 foreign children arriving on the Mediterranean in the first two months of 2017, the upward trend in arrivals is expected to continue this year, making this law timely and relevant”, UNICEF said.

“While across Europe we have seen fences going up, children detained and pledges unmet,  the Italian parliamentarians have shown their compassion and duty to young refugees and migrants,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, who on her recent visit to Italy met several newly arrived children. “This new law serves not only to give refugee and migrant children a sense of predictability in their uncertain lives after risking so much to get to Europe – it serves as a model for how other European countries could put in place a legislative framework that supports protection.” Italy’s move is in stark contrast to the UK, where MPs earlier this month chose not to continue a scheme to accept more lone child refugees from Europe.

The Dubs Amendment, named after Labour peer Alf Dubs, who arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied child migrant himself before World War II, was initially aimed at giving more than 3,000 child refugees safe passage into the UK. But ministers claimed local councils did not have the capacity to support the children and limited the number to 350.

The Italian Parliament passed the new (Zampa) law for “Provision of Protection measures” after two years of intensive advocacy efforts by UNICEF and other child rights organizations in Italy.  According to a recent UNICEF report Child Alert: A Deadly Journey for Children, refugee and migrant children and women routinely suffer sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention at the hands of smugglers on the Central Mediterranean migration route to reach Italy. The report was widely cited in the Italian Parliament.

The Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy has become one of the main routes for children fleeing conflict, persecution and deprivation, as well as one of the longest and most dangerous. Some 92 percent of children on the move into Italy are between 14-17 years old and travelling by themselves.

The Zampa law, as the new measure is known, is the first comprehensive act for unaccompanied children in Italy. It calls for a series of measures – fully aligned with UNICEF recommendations – to protect refugee and migrant children, including:

• Unaccompanied and separated foreign children will not be subjected to “refoulement” or returns that may cause them harm;
• Reduce the time these children spend in first-line reception centres;
• Promote guardianship for children by using trained volunteers from the regional child and youth agency and promote foster care and host families for children;
• Harmonize and improve procedures for age assessment in a child-sensitive manner;
• Establish a structured and streamlined national reception system, with minimum standards in all reception facilities;
• Roll out extensive use of qualified cultural mediators* to communicate and interpret needs of vulnerable adolescents;

The new law includes additional budgetary provisions on top of €600 million which the Government of Italy had already allocated in 2016 to municipalities, groups and caregivers to help them cope with the large influx of refugees and migrants in reception centres. (@OnuItalia)

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