Fragile immigrant minors risk being exploited in Italy

ROME, ITALY (INTERSOS) – The doors open every evening at the Italian charity Intersos in Rome to feed at least a few of the nearly 65,000 immigrant minors who have arrived in the city after making a perilous sea crossing from North Africa.

Mamadu Bassir is a gangly 17-year-old boy from Guinea who travelled to Italy alone last year. A Libyan prison guard knocked out three of this teeth with a club. Bassir, who cannot swim, survived because minutes earlier rescuers had thrown him a life-jacket. Clearly still traumatised by his experience he now has an immigration lawyer helping him get the documents he needs to work legally, or to go to school.

Four months ago, Italy passed a law aimed at protecting child immigrants that has been praised by humanitarian groups, but without adult guidance and under pressure to send money home, thousands end up again in the hands of smugglers or exploited to work long hours for little money.

Kostas Moschochoritis, head of the Intersos humanitarian group says while they can help the minors they can never substitute the families they have left behind.

Syed Hasnain, a 28-year-old Afghan, arrived in Italy a decade ago. His mother sent him away when he was 10-years-old to keep the Taliban from taking him to fight. Now he helps kids like Bassir. He says for most of the minors, missing their mothers is one of their greatest problems.

Often the young migrants want to reach relatives in other European countries, but increased border security by France, Switzerland and Austria often means that they pay high fees to be smuggled north.

After hosting since 2011, 4,000 unaccompanied minors and migrant families with young children, Intersos is opening a new shelter with more beds on the outskirts of the capital.