“For young people like me living in a reception centre, this is not just about ‘staying at home’”

Three young migrants in Italy share contrasting experiences of lockdown

Angela Hawke
16 June 2020

For three migrant teenagers in Italy, COVID-19 lockdown could not be more different. Dembo and Hannah, live in reception centres in Sicily, while Almamy is with his foster family in Milan at the other end of the country.

Hannah and Dembo are U-Reporters: young refugees and migrants who use a UNICEF-supported digital platform to speak out on the issues that matter to them. Their lives in reception centres were complicated and frustrating before COVID-19. Now, with the arrival of the pandemic, their situation is even more difficult.

Hannah, aged 15

“I would have liked to spend this period with people I can call ‘my family’, rather than in a reception centre.”

Hannah, aged 19

Hannah writes from a reception centre in Catania, Sicily, to explain how her daily routine has changed: “At 06:30 my alarm generally rang and I had breakfast, I went to school. In the afternoon I did my homework, I met friends. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my life has changed a lot and for young people like me living in a reception centre it's not just about ‘staying at home,’ it's also about not being able to have social relationships.

“Now in the morning I try to do things as usual: breakfast, video lessons, lunch, homework. But a lot of the time I get very bored because I can't go out and I miss going to school, seeing teachers and classmates, friends and seeing people smiling.

“Spending this period in a reception centre means, above all, having patience. We are forced to share the same spaces and we must respect each other. I have always respected the rules of the community, but it’s really hard these days as they impose further limitations due to the emergency. The first thing I will do at the end of the quarantine will be going out and enjoying the open, fresh and free air; and, of course, meet my friends.

“Even if here there are people taking care of me, sometimes I would have liked to spend this period with people I can call ‘my family’ rather than in a reception centre; I wish I could be with someone I can trust, making me not feeling alone.

“Maybe the thing I miss the most is my family of origin, I am very worried about them because this virus spreads and everyone is at risk. Despite all restrictions, I can say I feel safe while they are forced to go out to get food with the risk of being infected”.

“Life always asks us to be resilient”

Dembo, aged 19

Dembo writes from a reception centre in Palermo, Sicily, about trying to find the positives in this situation: “I feel lucky because if I look at other people I know I have a roof over my head and I can avoid getting infected by this disease. But my routine has changed and sometimes I feel a bit frustrated. I am having some difficulties regarding my document issues and I have not been going to work these recent days and I have not heard from my boss: I am worried that I lost my job.

“I learnt a lot about this critical condition that we are living in: first, that we should always be there for each other. We should avoid being racist, we need to be together as one big family, and support each other. No matter what difficulties we might face, if we are united we can overcome all difficulties. Life always asks us to be resilient. Never let hard times discourage you. We need to be strong, and try to learn from these experiences.

“Being resilient is the key. Worrying has never solved any problem but with prayers, faith, hope and love, I am sure we can go through hard times. My friends and social workers in my reception centre are all really important at this time: they usually gave me good advice. I really focus on my religion and on all the good things I have in my life. This helps me a lot to stay optimistic and calm.”

Almamy with his foster parents, Lu and Ro.
Almamy with his foster parents, Lu and Ro.

“What makes this bearable is that I am with my trusted family.”

Almamy, aged 19

Almamy has lived with his foster family in Milan, Lombardy, since leaving a reception centre in Palermo. He is one of 50 children and young people to be fostered through a partnership between UNICEF, the Italian authorities and the Italian non-profit National Coordination of Care Communities (CNCA) Terreferme initiative. The initiative aims to integrate unaccompanied migrant children and young people into the national foster care system as standard practice. Foster parents go through an intense process, including orientation classes, home visits and careful matching that spans psychological tests, personality tests and more.

Almamy writes: “Since the emergency started here in Italy, my days have changed. Today I live my day entirely at home, all schools have been closed for security reasons. I no longer go to school to attend lessons, and I cannot go running in the park.

“But what makes this period bearable is the fact that I am spending it with my trusted family. Sometimes we play with cards to spend some time together or watch films together. I always have Lu and Ro [foster parents] close. But I miss going to see Lu or Ro's parents, they are old and it could be dangerous.

“When I think back to the reception centre, I get lost in many thoughts. Because when I was there life was very difficult to me. In this dramatic period, I imagine that many other kids will suffer, staying alone in a reception centre.

“Right now, if you ask me what I'm missing the most, my answer is nothing, because I really don't miss anything. But at the end of this emergency I think I would like to try to build more relationships with others.”

Hannah is also looking ahead: “I think that even after the emergency, I will always keep in mind the things the COVID outbreak taught us, such us the importance of people and relationships; to be united and love our neighbours, even if this means staying away for their own good. I also learnt that nothing is essential, because now what matters is health and preserving life. When we’re back to our lives I hope we’ll fully appreciate our freedom, and that we will continue to help others in difficulty, being understanding and supportive”.


The Terreferme initiative has also transformed the lives of Weghy and Ahmed, unaccompanied brothers from Egypt. You can see their story here.

For more information: https://www.unicef.it/doc/9543/terreferme.htm