By Maged Srour
ROME, Aug 2 2018 (IPS)
Thousands of migrant minors placed in reception facilities upon arrival in Italy, as a first step in identification and later relocation into other structures for asylum seekers, are untraceable and feared trafficked.
A report, Tiny invisible slaves 2018, released this week by the non-governmental organisation Save the Children, states that 4,570 minors migrating through Italy are untraceable as of May.
Once they escape the facilities, their vulnerable position—having no money, not knowing the language and being often traumatised after their trip to Italy—places them at the mercy of traffickers and exploiters.
Many of these children end up in networks of sexual exploitation, forced labour and enslavement. Save the Children reported that some girls are forced to perform survival sex—to prostitute themselves in order to pay the ‘passeurs’ to cross the Italian border or to pay for food or a place to sleep.
“I left Nigeria with a friend and once we arrived to Sabha (Libya) we were arrested,” Blessing, one of the victims, told Save the Children.
“I stayed there for three months and then I moved to Tripoli. For eight interminable months I was forced to prostitute myself in exchange for food,” she added.
Blessing then reported that her nightmare continued in Italy where she was sexually exploited by a compatriot. She ultimately was able to enter a protection programme thanks to Save the Children. But her story is a rare case of rescue as many other children find themselves enslaved with no end in sight.
According to testimonies collected by the NGO, minors leave reception facilities because they judge the processes of entering the child protection system as a useless slowing down towards the economic autonomy they aspire to and usually leave the centres a few days after identification.
This has been occurring largely in the southern regions of Italy.
But according to the report, “the flow of minors in transit through Italy to northern Europe is, by its own nature, difficult to quantify.” Though it noted that minors transiting through Italy between January and March, make up between 22 percent and 31 percent out of the total transitioning migrants across the country. The minors are mostly Eritrean (14 percent), Somalis (13 percent), Afghans (10 percent), Egyptians (9 percent) and Tunisians (8 percent).
“The fact that the European Union relocation programme was blocked in September 2017, has contributed in an important way to forcing children in transit to re-entrust themselves to traffickers, or to risk their own lives to cross borders, as well as it continues to happen for those minors who transit through the Italian north frontier with the aim of reaching the countries of northern Europe,” Roberta Petrillo, from the child protection department of Save the Children, Italy, told IPS.
The redistribution of asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, which are the main landing territories of migrants heading to Europe, was stopped mainly because of opposition to the refugee quotas from the EU member countries of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary.
The EU’s initial plan provided for the relocation of 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other European countries within two years. As of May, 12,690 and 21,999 migrants were relocated from Italy and Greece respectively. To date, the Czech Republic has accepted only 12 refugees, Slovakia 16, with Hungary and Poland having taken no refugees.
According to estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), almost 10 million children and youth across the world were forced into slavery, sold and exploited, mainly for sexual and labour purposes in 2016.
They make up 25 percent of the over 40 million people who are trafficked, of which more than seven out of 10 are women and girls. According to the ILO estimates, nearly one million victims of sexual exploitation in 2016 were minors, while between 2012 and 2016, 152 million boys and girls aged between five and 17 were engaged in various forms of child labour. More than half of these activities were particularly dangerous for their own health.
“When we talk about data of this kind we must be very cautious because we are dealing with numbers that only concern the emergence of the phenomenon, without keeping track of the submerged data,” Petrillo added.
There were 30,146 registered victims of trafficking and exploitation in 2016 in the 28 EU countries with 1,000 of them minors.
However, according to 2016 figures from the ILO, 3.6 million people across Europe were reportedly modern day slaves.
According to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, human trafficking is the second-largest criminal industry in the world, second only to the illegal drug trade. It is estimated to be an industry worth USD32 billion annually.
The most targeted
Nigerian and Romanian girls are amongst the most targeted by the trafficking networks.
According to Save the Children, for the journey that will take them to Italy, the Nigerian girls contract a debt between 20,000 and 50,000 euros that they can only hope to repay by undergoing forced prostitution.
Like their peers from Romania, they enter a mechanism of sexual exploitation from which they cannot get free easily.
While Nigerians escape mainly for security issues and political instability, Romanian girls flee their country because of a total lack of opportunities and economic autonomy there. Their deep economic deprivation makes them highly vulnerable and easy targets for traffickers, who deceive or coerce them to enter into networks of sexual exploitation.
According to the Save the Children Report, in 2017 there were a total of 200 minor victims of trafficking and exploitation who were put into protection programmes. The vast majority of these, 196, were girls with about 93.5 percent Nigerian girls aged between 16 and 17 years.
In addition, almost half of the minors were sexually exploited
Riccardo Noury, spokesperson for Amnesty International Italy, told IPS that migrant men were welcomed with open arms because they were useful for working under exploited conditions.
However, migrant women were welcome only because they were used for prostitution.
“By not guaranteeing legal and safe paths for those fleeing wars and persecution, by not organising and recognising the presence of migrant workers, we just do a favour to the criminal groups, who build real fortunes on trafficking in human beings,” Noury told IPS.
While Petrillo said that “the Italian and the EU legal framework is solid and a good one,” she cautioned that “what is needed, instead, is a unitary intervention that closely links the issue of anti-trafficking reality with that of minors in transit. And we must be able to guarantee universal protection for the victims.”