By Laura Clarke.
In mid January 170 people applied for registration at Rome's juvenile court to be included in the list of voluntary guardians (tutori volontari) for unaccompanied foreign minors. All had been trained by Lazio's regional child protection authority.
They are the advance guard of over 600 Lazio residents who have stepped forward to support approximately 1,000 foreign minors in the region who have arrived in Italy without their parents. Unaccompanied minors need a guardian in order to complete their administrative procedures, which include applying for international protection, relocation and family reunification.
The regional authorities are now preparing two further training courses, starting in mid-February and mid-March.
The response has been strong across the country since the introduction of the voluntary guardianship for unaccompanied foreign minors under a new law approved by parliament in 2017.
By mid-December last year regional child protection authorities across the country had received a total of 3,382 applications from Italians and non-Italians legally resident in Italy to act as tutori volontari, according to national child protection authority figures. Lazio was the region with the biggest response (600 applications as of 15 December), followed by Lombardy (581) and Piemonte (545).
Applicants must undergo 30 hours of training in immigration law, psychology, health, cultural mediation and other areas relevant to their guardianship before they can be declared eligible. By mid December, training had been rolled out in all but four regions: Lombardia, Basilicata, Molise and Calabria.
The new figure of the voluntary guardian is intended to address a breakdown in the previous system for unaccompanied foreign minors in Italy. In recent years the growing number of unaccompanied children landing in Italy, plus the increasing pressure on migrant reception facilities has forced many impatient and determined young people underground. In theory, a guardian should be appointed within 48 hours of the official police report of arrival in the country, but in reality the process can take much longer. The appointed guardian – often the mayors of the municipality where the child is hosted – often have hundreds of minors as wards.
Under the new system there can be a maximum of three unaccompanied minors per voluntary guardian, but in Lazio the authorities have set the ideal ratio at two to one.
There are 18,508 unaccompanied foreign minors in Italy according to the latest labour ministry figures, updated to 30 November 2017. Of these 93 per cent are boys and 83.4 per cent are approaching majority age.
The largest national group comes from Gambia, followed by Guinea, Egypt, Albania and Eritrea.
An additional 5,581 minors who had previously been registered in Italy are unaccounted for, having abandoned their host structures in order to make their way alone. These youngsters are of special concern to children’s rights organisations because they are vulnerable to exploitation by smugglers and criminal organisations for illegal work, prostitution and the human organ trade.
For further information about becoming a voluntary guardian in Lazio see www.garanteinfanzia.regione.lazio.it/garante_infanzia/