In collaboration with the Italian Refugee Council (Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati Onlus (CIR)) and with the support of the Ho Foundation, KIND launched the new year with an innovative project in Italy that provides legal assistance to unaccompanied and separated children after they turn 18, when most protections in the country fall away unless young people take additional legal action.
Italy hosts more than 11,000 unaccompanied children from around the world, including Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Syria, and Tunisia, most of whom do not have access to legal assistance that could provide them some form of protection.
Many are fleeing conflict, forced labor, gender-based violence, child marriage, and malnutrition, while others are trafficked. Nearly all have experienced incomprehensible levels of violence, exploitation, and poverty, and are seeking safety and stability in Europe.
Gaps in access to legal information and assistance
Unaccompanied children in Italy are entitled to a high level of protection under the “Zampa law,” which allows minors to gain a residence permit and guarantees a minimum level of care, including health care, education, and legal representation.
However, the protections under the Zampa law fall away once the child turns 18. To remain documented in Italy and gain access to education, employment, and the right to stay in the country, their child residence permit must be converted into an adult residence permit. There is no legal aid available to support young people through this process, which also requires a valid passport. Without legal assistance, many can be blocked because they do not have a passport, or if they did, it was lost or stolen along their journey. This leaves children at risk of deportation or destitution once they turn 18 and are no longer under the care of the state.
KIND and CIR, in partnership with trained pro bono lawyers, are delivering legal information and assistance to current and former unaccompanied children who are seeking to remain documented in Italy by obtaining a passport and residence permit or to reunify with family in other EU countries.
The project will also build the capacity of the Ombudsperson of Children and Adolescents and voluntary guardians in Sicily to help children in their care navigate the legal options and process they face as they seek protection. Typically, guardians in Italy are volunteers and may not have sufficient understanding of the legal pathways available to unaccompanied children and the documentation needed.
The project will span three locations in Italy; Lazio, Sicily, and Friuli Venezia Giulia (Trieste and surrounding areas at the Italy-Slovenia border).
“CIR strongly believes in the strategic importance of protecting unaccompanied children in migration with prompt, high-quality and child-friendly legal assistance. Similarly, cooperation mechanisms among relevant actors involved in the protection of unaccompanied children are necessary to build and reinforce an integrated national system able to address their special needs and protect their fundamental rights. Thanks to the support of KIND and its international experience, CIR will be able to build on and expand its efforts to protect unaccompanied minors in Italy.” – Daniela Di Rado, Head of the Legal Department, CIR
One piece of a larger puzzle
CIR joins KIND’s five existing partner NGOs in Europe to expand access to quality legal assistance for unaccompanied children. Since KIND’s work in Europe began in late 2019, we have assisted 749 children from 35 countries to apply for asylum, reunify with family, obtain citizenship and residence permits, challenge incorrect age assessments, and more. Through this work we observe the gaps in the effectiveness and implementation of law and policies at local and EU levels and feed these insights into our advocacy work with our NGO partner, Child Circle, as in our joint reports on strengthening access to legal assistance and on protecting unaccompanied children at border points.
“This is an important step forward for the protection of unaccompanied children in Italy and across Europe,” said KIND Europe Regional Director Marieanne McKeown. “KIND is delighted to be partnering with Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati Onlus and a network of committed and passionate pro bono lawyers in Italy to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children seeking protection, safety and stability.”