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15.09.2014 - News

Landing in Sicily

“Children have undergone such trauma they have need for a specific treatment and this is where we come in”, explains Lilian Pizzi, the Tdh psychologist that works with these migrant children. The Foundation supports Tdh in Italy, by contributing to the work of Project Faro (the “beacon” in Italian). Direct support activities began on the island of Lampedusa in 2011 following the landing of hundreds of young people from North Africa after the Arab spring. More than 1,000 children have been helped – including 150 who received legal counsel – during the three summer months that mark the peak of the crossings when the sea is less dangerous. “Facing migration and the risk of dying at sea was the only opportunity I had to survive”, reflects a fifteen year old Tunisian.

Their story is chilling. Before landing on the island of Lampedusa, the families and unaccompanied minors had paid the smugglers. Some had crossed the Sahara desert. Many of them had been imprisoned, were detained and tortured until relatives paid a ransom to set them free. Others had to work harder to raise money and attempt the crossing, risking their lives.

Training reception professionals

In the fall, once this first intervention was completed, Tdh carried out inquiries into the reception of these minors after their transfer to the continent.“We found that the people entrusted to support these unaccompanied minors lacked knowledge on this subject”, reveals Lilian Pizzi. So in 2012, the first training programs for social workers and the persons supporting migrant minors were conducted throughout Italy – from Messina to Genoa. Last August, a handbook for social workers responsible for the protection of unaccompanied children was published based on experience gained in the field.

A duo of specialists

Last year, Tdh was once again able to support the migrant children at the First Aid Centre on Lampedusa. During each mission, a psychotherapist and an Arabic-speaking intercultural mediator are present seven days a week and carry out activities to help children overcome their fears and express themselves through drawing, games or discussion. These psychosocial support services were provided to 750 people – including unaccompanied youths, children migrating with their parents and parents themselves.

An unbearable wait

Since 1st January 2014, 5293 children were brought ashore by the Italian Navy in Syracuse, Sicily, 3038 of them were unaccompanied. Young people are supposed to spend two or three days in reception centers prior to being transferred to host communities. But due to a lack of infrastructure, they are forced to wait between two and five months in places not suitable for such long stays. This waiting period is poorly tolerated after a journey that has already lasted months or even years. Some end up escaping and find themselves once again at the mercy of traffickers while trying to reach family or acquaintances in northern countries. To prevent the risk of disappearance and provide adequate protection to migrant children, in March 2014 Tdh launched a new phase of Project Faro in Syracuse at the Papa Francesco Priolo Gargallo Welcome Center.

“Facilities are inadequate and foster a level of promiscuity that creates tension in the center”, explains one Tdh psychologist.“We nevertheless strive to maintain a human and reassuring atmosphere. Apart from Tdh activities, no other program is in place.” Activities are designed to provide a secure framework for the minors in which they can express their emotions freely, play and find serenity.

Looking ahead

Tdh’s work in the centre also allows minors to take advantage of this time to envision a new life for themselves and consider the steps that will be necessary to get there. “Upon arrival we organize an initial explanatory session then we help them to become aware of their abilities in relation to their life goals”. In one of the exercises, they are asked to imagine their lives in 5 years. It is a real challenge for children who live in total uncertainty and do not know what the next day will bring.

With 100 francs, Tdh can finance the psychological and legal support for one migrant child during his or her stay in a welcome center. Make a donation now.