Alarmed by the worrying situation of unaccompanied migrant children, AMADE wished to mobilize for the benefit of these children, who arrive alone on the Sicilian coasts. These children, in great distress, have lost their parents during their stay in Libya or during the crossing of the Mediterranean. Some of the older ones, with no family ties, have decided to flee from war or poverty.
During the first half of 2015, more than 130,000 people arrived in Italy via the sea, and 2,000 people died during the crossing, including several hundred children. This situation is considered the worst tragedy known in the history of the Mediterranean.
With this in mind, AMADE has explored the possibility of implementing an integrated program that will provide a lasting solution for a number of the most vulnerable migrant children and ensure a future for them. To this end, three Italian partners (Terre des Hommes Italy, ASLA and the Marcegaglia Foundation) have been identified and committed to this initiative.
This integrated program covers four components:
- The psychosocial and psychological care of migrant minors hosted in 2 centers in Sicily (Ragusa province) in partnership with Terre des Hommes Italy;
- Support for the advocacy campaign "Destination Unknown" initiated by the International Federation of Terre des Hommes, through the production of a documentary;
- Legal assistance for these children, as well as the training of specialized lawyers in partnership with ASLA (Associated Law Firm Association);
- Long-term integration through access to education and employment via the awarding of scholarships in partnership with the Marcegaglia Foundation.
The first part of this program regarding the welcoming and the psychosocial and psychological care of migrant minors in 2 centers located in the province of Ragusa, implemented by Terre des Hommes Italy, is an integral part of the "FARO" programme; which is in itself an operational component of the international campaign "Destination Unknown" for the protection of children in situations of migration initiated by the International Federation of Terre des Hommes.
- Welcoming and orientation towards educational services;
- Debate and exchange groups;
- Italian language classes and fun language workshops;
- Analysis and evaluation of skills;
- Activities for babies and children: drawing, coloring, reading;
- Informal listening of minors speaking;
- Individual sessions and development of a personal roadmap;
- Psychological referrals (for emergencies and vulnerable cases);
- Supporting the local team to prevent risky situations;
- Management of vulnerable cases of minors;
- Advocacy support from TDH;
- Supporting the position of TDH in the field of migration;
- Complaining to the courts in the defense of the rights of migrants;
- Scholarship Program;
- Support for Italian institutions.
- Babies and children accompanied by their families in the transit center of Pozzallo were welcomed in a secure environment in which they are able to express themselves freely and reconnect with their emotions;
- 958 people were able to recognize and manage the emotional, behavioral and health problems of their children. They receive support in order to be able to express themselves in their new context;
- Unaccompanied migrant minors hosted in the Mediterranean "Espoir" Center were involved in the implementation of psychosocial activities;
- 86 most vulnerable/at-risk minors were identified by the Terre des Hommes team and their cases were correctly reported to the Director of the Center;
- The identification was mentioned in the minor's record, which also contains the data related to his/her state of health and legal status during his/her transfer to a protected community.
Psychosocial and psychological assistance for Unaccompanied Minors
2015 - 2018
120 000 €
200 unaccompanied minors welcomed into 2 transit centres in Sicily
Terre des Hommes Italy (TDH)
To contribute to the care and integration of Unaccompanied Minors arriving to Italy by sea.
J.S. is an 18-year-old woman born in Nigeria in 1998, originally from Benin City. This young Christian woman landed at Pozzallo in August 2016 and is today hosted at “Casa delle Culture” in Sicily. She is orphaned by both parents, who died in 2008; her father was a police officer and was killed in a shootout, while her mother, a clothing merchant, died of heart attack due to her husband's death. S. is the eldest daughter and has a little sister she is very attached to. She also has 4 male brothers, born from his father's second marriage. Both S. and her sister have not been schooled. After her parent’s death, she spent about two years at her paternal uncle, from whom she suffered physical violence. Later, she was hosted by a friend of her mother, who currently looks after her sister.
From the age of 14, S. started to work in the soap manufacturing industry to earn the money needed to reach Italy and find a job to allow a better future for her sister and help her with her studies. She undertook the dangerous journey to Italy in March 2016, from Kano, Nigeria; she crossed the Niger and spent 4 days in the desert.
In Libya, she lived in Tripoli for four months, along with other Nigerian girls. Here she was exploited in prostitution and was imprisoned by the police for 2 weeks, suffering from thirst and hunger. She was nevertheless able to earn enough money to finally reach Italy.
The sea crossing lasted 3 days and was very difficult due to overcrowding, with 130 migrants on a single small boat. Her long journey ended in August 2016, when she reached the port of Pozzallo. Since her arrival, S. has showed a deflected humor and an evident condition of psychological suffering and insomnia, exacerbated by the alleged sexual violence by compatriots. She also has difficulties in expressing her own feelings and a tendency to suppress her sufferings. She reported several episodes of fainting and loss of consciousness, both in Libya and Italy, in addition to a sense of suffocation, palpitations and chest tightness, agitation, anxiety, and fear of dying, which appear to occur in periods of particular stress and related to a difficulty in communicating her emotional state, also leading to a lack of appetite. During her stay with us, S. has however demonstrated the ability to establish good relationships with peers and operators, as well as maintain a certain level of confidence within the psychological support process.
A.M. is a 17-year-old Muslim young man born in Gambia in 2000. He landed at Pozzallo on March 2017 and is currently hosted at the Mediterranean Hope Center in Scicli, Sicily. He is the eldest son of a large family of 6 brothers. His mother was his father's first wife and 4 children were born from this first marriage, and 2 more children from the second marriage. A.M bears his maternal grandfather’s name, “Alagie”, who died before his birth. “Alagie” is a name given to Muslim people who once traveled to Mecca in life: his grandfather, a Marabut, had gone to pilgrimage to Mecca, hence his nephew inherited his name. With the choice of his name, A.M.’s family has the expectation of him to become an important person in life (a Marabout, as his grandfather, or with a well-paid job). His father worked as a farmer, and A. helped him in husbandry. There was, however, a tense situation within the extended family and numerous sudden mourning of family members occurred. A.M’s mother died suddenly in 2007-2008, when we was 8 years old. Later both his father's second wife and his father died too. Following his father's death, he moved to his paternal uncle, who took over the land and livestock of the brother. A.M. was prevented from continuing his school and suffered numerous physical violence. During one of these violent episodes, he reported to be " beaten as I had never seen anyone beat. " While at his uncle’s place, he was also told that his uncle was responsible for his parents’ death. He is persuaded of the fact that the latter casted a spell on his mother, his father's second wife, and his father himself, resulting in their death. He has reported such episodes of violence with a feeling of shame and expressed strong fear in speaking of them. In such a situation, A.M. feared of his life because of his uncle's authority, and the only viable way was for him to escape. After having lived for a few months together with his brothers at his aunt’s place in Gambia, he left Gambia in August 2016 to Senegal. He lived there for four months, working as a chicken keeper, in order to make some money and continue his journey. He crossed Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, and finally reached Libya. He suffered hunger in the desert between Niger and Libya for 5 days and feared death. He lived for about 2 days in a camp in Sabha, where he was provided with one meal per day and suffered hunger again. After getting some new money from a Senegalese friend, he later lived for 17 days in a second camp in Barak, where there was an internal prison. Although he had not been imprisoned, he witnessed the deaths of eight people, presumably owing to lack of food and healthcare. Then he fled to Sabratha and lived for another 15 days in a new camp, and eventually faced the dangerous 3-day sea crossing to Pozzallo, during which he had nausea and vomiting. Now that he is hosted in Italy, he has been expressing his concern about his brothers who still live in his home country, fearing that they might be killed or injured by his paternal uncle. After landing, he suffered pain in the lower limbs for a few weeks (probably ankylosis) due to overcrowding during the desert and sea crossing. Despite being an orphan, the violence he suffered and the potentially traumatic dangers he faced during the migratory route, he is resilient and has a good feedback: he is smart and shows his affection to his brothers and maternal aunt, seeking help if needed. A.M.’s wish is to study Italian and become a football player; he would also like to work as an electrician and work in social networking.
A. is a 15-year-old young man from Nigeria. In October 2014, a terrorist attack by Boko Haram struck his village during the night, while his family was asleep. He woke up for his mother's screams; while the rest of the family fled, his father and older brother remained in the village, along with other grown men, so that women and children could escape, losing their lives. That fateful night, the terrorists killed several people, but the arrival of Nigerian government soldiers made some women and children to be released by terrorists. A.’s mother was released, while his sister was taken away by the terrorists. A. wonders whether his sister is still alive, as he hasn’t heard from her since the night of Boko Haram's attack. Following the terrorist attack, he fled to Niger, along with his second-born brother. Here, he slept on the street, in front of a supermarket. In order to survive during the day, his brother carried goods for the supermarket, while A. cleaned the outdoor area, earning 1.50 euros per day. He spent 3 months sleeping on the street.
Later, he and his brother moved to the city of Agadesh, Niger, on the border with Libya. He crossed the desert and after 11-12 days reached Tripoli. He then worked in the city of Musalata, together with his brother, at a car wash. This area was subject to criminal acts, and two of A’s comrades were murdered. He fled from Musalata during the night and was brought near the sea. He was hence separated from his brother and reached Italy, along with other women and children. From the time of separation, he hasn’t heard from his brother, but also thanks God to be a "survivor".
A.'s father wanted him to work as a male nurse, and he wishes to follow his father’s will. Despite his positive attitude, he experiences symptoms following traumatic events, some of which – such as insomnia, recurrent nightmares and intrusive thoughts - have lasted for a year and a half. He has been suffering from sleeping difficulties, awakens in the middle of the night as a result of nightmares, dreaming of his father being killed and he himself losing his life. He suddenly wakes up and cries and experiences anxiety due to the lack of knowledge of his sister and separation from his brother and family.
F. is an 8-year-old, curious and lively girl, with intelligent eyes. We met her in the hotspot with her uncle M. He is from a Muslim family and is the younger brother of F.’s mother.
Uncle M. is a well-educated man who received a good education in the home country, got the Bachelor's degree and attended the Faculty of Philosophy for 3 years. He had to drop out of University due to lack of financial means and worked as a cab driver to support his family. Later he married a fellow countrywoman and had a 3-year-old son. Uncle M. emigrated from his own country together with his niece F. to free the latter from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which, in addition to early marriage, is a widespread practice within the community they belong to. Girls and young women from the age of 13-14, are often forced to get married with older men and several secret female communities practice genital mutilation on girls so they can be "good wives". There are very few people who oppose GMP and early marriage practices, fearing they might face social marginalization. “Social death” is a concrete reality in many African cultures, for which the notion of an individual does not exist in itself, rather people are integral part of the social fabric that defines their own existence, often leading to physical death. For such a reason, many people are silent, afraid of the consequences of their opposition. F. attended primary school in her country of origin when her uncle decided to emigrate, following F’s mother wish to leave for Europe and bring her daughter away to rescue her from violence and provide her with a good education. They have therefore left their country about 3 months ago, undertaking a much safer journey than many other migrants.
They crossed the Sahara Desert, suffering from cold at night, thirst and hunger, fearing for their lives. Then, they spent about 2 moths at the Sabratha camp in Libya, witnessing the repeated and daily physical violence of migrant smuggling. Uncle M. hopes to find a job in Italy to allow her niece to have a good education, fulfilling his promise to her sister, and support his wife and son back in his home country. Little F. and her uncle M’s story is a story of courage but is likely to go unnoticed among the too often tragic stories of migrants.
A. is a 17-year-old young man from Gambia. He is generally very polite and well mannered in his interactions with others, but lately he is anxious and apprehensive and tends to hold long conversations about religion, accompanied by decomposed movements. A. has disorders of thought form and content: thoughts flow following casual connections, with delusional mystical-religious ideas. He once argued that the dog in the garden was a human reincarnated as an animal and that we are all part of the whole as the whole is part of us. If similar affirmations are to be read in the light of a possible connection to a widespread animistic philosophical background shared by many African cultures, the statement according to which when you know yourself you know the whole universe and have the certainty there will be unity among people and you will be full of the greatest wealth, namely having many followers, is striking . He also claimed that there were no differences between the Bible and the Koran and that he had come to Italy to complete a mission which is both individual and able to reach the whole of mankind. He said he had already been in Sicily in the 70s and, more worryingly, to be the reincarnation of the Prophet. The latter is a claim that, spoken by a Muslim practitioner, entails all the power of blasphemy as well as the concrete risk of being subjected to violent acts by other Muslims. This suggests that A. is undergoing a period of severe stress that makes it difficult for him to efficiently use resources to deal with his situation. He has also been experiencing a sense of guilt due to the impossibility, for the first time in his life, of supporting his family in Gambia. He has indeed supported both his parents and sister in the past, even during his long stay in Libya.
Now that he is in a First Reception Centre, he feels like he has experienced a self-fulfilling prophecy. Before arriving in Italy, a Libyan woman very close to A. supposedly tried to dissuade him from leaving the country, as in Italy he would live a life of "eating and sleeping" that is not worth living. Although the actual existence of such a female figure is questionable, it is without a doubt that this prophecy is fueling A.’s self-guilty process who feels that he made a totally wrong decision despite being properly advised. “Like a baby" is the expression that best describes the mix of anger and despair he has been felt of the present situation, that of a person reduced to a semi-captive condition where he cannot even make simple choices such as what foods to eat. That is because he lacks economic means; without any money (apart from pocket money) and documents, he feels he lives as if he were in a prison where the only illusion of being free is the absence of bars. He is also experiencing some isolation within the CPA program: he can make acquaintances with only a few of the guests as most of his comrades are described to be unaware of their actual situation, committed in behaviors that he does not agree with and even condemns.
Mrs. K. is a Congolese woman who landed at the port of Augusta, Sicily, and is currently hosted in Syracuse. She is in a state of particular psychophysical stress and emotional instability: she looks unkempt and does not communicate nor interact with other guests and operators of the reception center. Her psychophysical conditions are partly due to the fatigue, stress and violence of the journey to Italy, but date back to her past life experiences. She feels a rage towards her relatives in Congo, who she considers to embody the worst of African culture. Her story is in fact characterized by conflict with other family members, getting her to leave her home country to Europe. Mrs. K comes from a good socio-cultural environment, and is the last member of the family, the only born from her mother’s second husband, after her first husband’s death. This has caused conflicts with her brothers for several years, which exacerbated after her parent’s death. Mrs. K. is accused, indeed, of being a witch who ate both her mother and father, hence experiencing marginalization within her own community. The inability to have children is often associated with female witchcraft: in such communities, any element beyond the everyday life can lead to be considered as outsider. And this has major consequences at both the physical and mental level, and, as its extreme, death. In such an isolation condition, Mrs. K, being concerned about her life, decided to undertake a long journey to Europe, but she was also diagnosed with a serious breast disease (an important part of a woman’s body, often linked to womanhood and motherhood). Once she got to Algeria, after an health checkup, she was confirmed with the negative diagnosis that further motivated her to reach Europe and benefit from better and free medical therapies. The journey was marked by violence of all kinds, including sexual ones. She was sexually assaulted several times, with traumatic consequences and fear of contracting HIV. In Italy, she has been told the only possible medical therapy for her disease is chemotherapy. Given her clinical picture, she needs good medical structures that monitor and support the patient in her psychological and physical conditions, and in any case of emergency. Therapies will be likely to be long and very demanding at the emotional and relational level. Furthermore, the emotional impact that such a medical condition may have on the psychological well-being of the other girls and young women in the reception center cannot be overlooked, as most of them have recently experienced violence and need a stress-free environment to recover from their condition. Mrs. K’s story is likely to relive their past experiences of voodoo rites, which most girls from Nigeria have confronted once in their lives.
L. is a young man, born in Gambia in 1999. L. has been living in a reception center for long time and it represents a risk factor for the development of mental disorders. In addition to drug use as a strategy for relieving tension and dealing with past negative experiences, L. seems to have developed a number of worrying psychological and behavioral symptoms: he is visibly weakened and experiences a negative feeling of anger, fear, lack of hope, disappointment, mistrust and personal insecurity. Furthermore, on January 2017, he has been injured by another young man now held in detention. This episode was the result of a period of tension between the two, in which L. verbally attacked him several times, without apparent reason. L’s insults to his mother triggered the anger of the latter, who eventually and repeatedly hit him with a sharp object. Between the end of last year and the beginning of this year, L. began to engage in negative behaviors, insulting and threatening other hosts in the reception center, often causing rage and fear among them. He also fears his life is in danger after a maraboutage; he does not eat food because he fears operators want to poison him; he believes operators and everyone else in the reception center is the embodiment of devil and hence avoid them; he uses magic rituals before eating or using any kind of object that does not belong to him, in order to avoid a contamination of harmful elements. This picture suggests the need for L. to be moved to an appropriate structure where, if the symptoms persist, it will be necessary a medical treatment and psychological support.Close
“Psychological and psychosocial support to unaccompanied migrant minors and families with children in Sicily and legal support to those in transit in Ventimiglia”
- Testimonies from February to July -
The Story of K.
K. is a 32-year-old Syrian woman. K. and her two daughters who are 4 and 12 years old, arrived from Lebanon to the House of Culture in Sicily, thanks to the program “Human Corridors.”
The Terre des Hommes team is in charge of caring for the family, since the beginning of their arrival: there are creative and expressive workshops for the youngest children to encourage relations within the structure and to facilitate the integration in the group of the other children, especially at school. The mother asks to begin a path of psychological support with the psychologist and the mediator of TDH.
The woman explains that she escaped from Syria because of the war and because she is of Kurdish origin. She emigrated in Lebanon in 2013, together with her family, the eldest daughter and her ex-husband. She is now separated from her ex-husband since he wanted to force her to interrupt her second pregnancy. K. describes that she suffered during the marriage due to continued violence and abuse from her ex-husband. She is very worried about her parents since they are very old and alone and are still in Lebanon.
During the first few meetings, the woman shows an open attitude and a strong need to tell her story. She narrates what she experienced in a very detailed manner, yet she shows a certain difficulty in getting in touch with her emotional dimension and her painful experiences because she tries to maintain an image of herself as a strong, determined and positive woman.
As the psychological support continues, K. establishes a relationship of trust with her psychologist, and she is able to bring up past memories, first in Syria and then in Lebanon. She is able to come to terms with her fragility and to accept slowly the deeper part of herself that is in need of support and care. She expresses profound sadness and suffering for having never felt support by her family, in particular by her father and brothers who have always had an attitude of contempt towards her and limited her strongly in her freedom and in her choices.
K. is very determined, courageous and has a high capacity for resilience and has managed to adapt quickly and adequately to her new life’s context. The daughters both go to school, while she is learning Italian and volunteering in a kindergarten. She is also a mother particularly devoted, affectionate and caring. Today, her greatest ambition, which has accumulated after years of suffering and oppression, is to work for the defense of women's rights. She has also been influenced thanks to the relationships built with other women who are guests at the House of Culture, who bring with them other dramatic and painful stories: "The freedom and respect of every human being is a fundamental and indispensable value and I want to fight for all the women in the world".
The story of F.
F. is a 27 years old woman who is four months pregnant and comes from the Ivory Coast. In June 2018, she arrived at the Port of Pazzallo with her 2-year-old daughter. At the time of disembarkation, her family is taken into care by the Terre des Hommes team, followed by the vulnerability report implemented by the team of Doctors Without Borders, which reports her desire to terminate her pregnancy. From that moment the woman will be followed until her transfer to a structure in Sicily.
F. appears very tired and worn out from her journey and carries with her the appearance of pain and suffering. The TDH team, immediately following the disembarkation, provides an emotional control aimed at comforting her, offering her listening and support. Her daughter initially appears a bit 'scared and disoriented but later, becomes more relaxed, as she watches the psychologist make a drawing for her.
On the same evening of the disembarkation, the woman is accompanied by the TDH mediator to the hospital for the usual routine checkups; during the ultrasound, she expresses again the wish to stop the pregnancy.
During the first interview in the Hotspot, the woman explains how she left her country of origin in 2017 and has spent about seven months in Libya with her daughter before being able to leave for Italy. Her husband has been in France for a couple of years and works occasionally as a tailor. They have three other children, who she left behind in Ivory Coast with their grandmother. During the meeting, F. explains with anguish her stay in Libya and the group violence she suffered inside a prison after being drugged. During the interview, she reports that she cannot sleep at night and often think about what she had suffered, reiterating repeatedly that she does not want to keep the baby because it is the result of violence. She explains that her husband, who she has not yet had the courage to contact since she arrived in Italy, would never accept her being pregnant with the child of someone else.
It was very important for F. to receive support from the TDH team. They were present in all the early stages of her arrival in Italy, offering her and her child active, authentic and non-judgmental listening and a space to share her suffering and be able to communicate her needs in her own language. In addition, she was presented with the opportunity to give her child up for adoption if, once born, yet she confirmed the desire not to keep it.
The TDH psychologist, before the transfer, hands over to the women her vulnerability report to share with the manager of the new structure, so they will be promptly informed of her condition, vulnerability and severe stress to activate adequate psychological support.
TDH then contacts the Prefecture to know which center F. was transferred to. They discover that the manager of the structure had received the vulnerability report made by TDH and has activated psychological support for the woman.
The story of I.
The day after the disembark, the TDH team listens to the boy while he colors and relaxes. Thanks to the safe, serene, and relaxed environment that TDH had created, the boy confusedly shares that he arrived in Italy with two uncles, but they were on another boat. Later, one of them shows up at the center explaining that he is the brother of the child's mother.
The team, however, notes that the minor is particularly wary and tense and doesn’t express affection towards the alleged uncle in a convincing way and the fact that the man declares himself his uncle a day after the disembarking.
The story of I. appears to be full of inconsistencies and the child continues to be frightened and confused by the many adult figures that revolve around him (first, the fake father, then later, the fake uncle).
Terre des Hommes, therefore decides that, to protect the minor, he should be considered 'unaccompanied'.
A referral is made to the social services, to solicit a transfer to a structure for minors of the same age. In addition, TDH highlights the emotional state of the child who may need psychological support, taking into account the traumatic episodes experienced (removal from the family, traveling at sea and further separation from possible other family ties). In the days after the transfer, Terre des Hommes contacts the structure to verify that everything is fine.
The child is attending school and seems to be serene about his new life. The minor is also followed on a psychological point of view and does not seem to report signs of a condition of vulnerability. Subsequently, the center will send an alert to the TDH team present in the Syracusan territory, in order to carry out a follow up evaluation in the structure.Close