PALERMO, Italy - 29 October 2019 – Fifty girls and boys who arrived in Italy as unaccompanied refugees and migrants will be part of a new mentorship programme connecting them to Italian citizens who will provide advice, support and guidance. Launched today, the programme – ‘Side by side: Citizens, young migrants and refugees together’ - is run by UNICEF and Refugees Welcome Italy in collaboration with the Municipality of Palermo.
Of the approximately 7,500 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who have arrived in Italy by sea this year, it is estimated that 80 per cent are aged 16 to 17. Between 2014 and 2018, an estimated 70,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children arrived, 90 per cent of whom were between 15 and 17 years old. When these young people turn 18, they no longer have access to specialized protection they receive as legal minors, although they are still very much in need of additional support.
Through ‘Side by side: Citizens, young migrants and refugees together,’ volunteer mentors will help fill this gap. Mentors will be trained to listen to, support and advise young migrants and refugees, while helping them integrate into their new communities, showing them how to access services as well as training and employment opportunities. It is the first such mentorship programme of its kind in Italy.
“Evidence shows that a one-on-one, caring relationship can significantly improve a young person’s well-being and prospects in life, especially when she or he is alone, without a parent or care-giver, and trying to navigate a new country and new way of life,” said UNICEF Country Coordinator for the Migration Programme in Italy, Anna Riatti. “The local community’s support for the mentorship programme is very encouraging and we are confident it will lead to increased understanding and social inclusion of young migrants and refugees.”
The pilot phase of the programme will begin with 50 mentors, who will be selected, screened and trained. Mentors must be at least 25 years old, live in Palermo, be fluent in Italian have a good understanding of the local culture and no criminal record. The 50 mentors will then be matched with the 50 migrant and refugee boys and girls.
“I have met many people who want to spend their time and share their skills to support young refugees and migrants,” said Refugees Welcome Italy Director, Fabiana Musicco. “With this project, we want to create a connection between young people who require support and local community members who have the skills and time to share, creating a positive experience for everyone involved.”
The programme’s initial phase builds on the positive results of the volunteer guardianship programme and aims to ensure a continuum of care for former unaccompanied minors, including those who have recently turned 18 years old. The pilot phase in Palermo will last 9 months and will then be evaluated for potential replication in other locations across Italy.
UNICEF in Italy advocates for local and national officials to ensure all unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children, including those turning 18, have access to training, education and employment opportunities, and that their rights are protected. UNICEF also urges the proper implementation of legislation and standards meant to protect all refugee and migrant children.
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About Refugees Welcome Italy
Refugees Welcome Italia (RWI) is a non-profit organization founded in 2015 to foster the social inclusion of refugees and migrants through the model of home-sharing. RWI is part of the European network Refugees Welcome International.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit https://www.unicef.org/eca/.