Save the Children Warns Untraceable Minors in Italy May be Trafficked

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 some EU member countries. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS.

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.”

Social Cohesion Through Filmmaking

By Fernanda Baumhardt and Amanda Nero
Aug 2 2018 (IOM)

“I want to talk about my journey. Three years ago, I came alone all the way from Darfur, Sudan. I left my family who still live in a refugee camp in Chad.” Abas, 23, a participant from our filmmaking workshop in Geneva, Switzerland.

This year, we wanted to take the Global Migration Film Festival one step further and directly engage with migrant communities.

We held participatory video workshops in Jordan, South Sudan and Switzerland leading up to the start of the Film Festival on the 5 of December. The workshops used the art of filmmaking as a tool to foster social cohesion and empowerment.

The method of Participatory Video promotes community-to-community learning, with our team of trainers acting mostly as facilitators. After providing a few tips to start the process, they stepped back so participants could learn filmmaking at their own pace. Allowing the group to evolve with minimum interference is key to capacity and team building.

The workshop tour kicked off in Amman, Jordan, in October. Since the beginning of the Syria crisis, this small country in the Middle East with a total population of 7.6 million has been hosting over 630,000 Syrians fleeing war and dismay. Jordan has also welcomed migrants, including refugees, from other countries in the region as well as African nations.

Teaching the basics of operating a professional camera with participants in Amman, Jordan. Photo: Amanda Nero/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Youth participants in Jordan discussing how to film the closing scene. Photo: Amanda Nero/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

The workshop brought together young migrants from Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea for a full week of filmmaking and discussions about the power of compassion and humanity to transform sadness into hope.

Unexpectedly, a Bedouin and his camel passed by when the participants were shooting one of their scenes, and he kindly agreed to take part in the film! Photo: Amanda Nero/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“I learned how to use the camera and microphone. I also learned that each person has a point of view and I have to respect it.”
Abukar, 20, from Somalia. Photo: Amanda Nero/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“I learned how to use the camera and microphone. I also learned that each person has a point of view and I have to respect it.”
Abukar, 20, from Somalia. Photo: Amanda Nero/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

In November, our team went to Malakal, South Sudan, to work with communities that have fled war and violence. With all they had been through, we knew they would have a lot to share.

Along with IOM’s Psychosocial Support Team, we helped a group of 14 community members who lived in the Malakal protection of civilians (PoC) site for the last four years to come together and make a short film based on their experiences and challenging life stories.

Deborah, 21, gaining confidence operating a camera. Photo: Amanda Nero/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Despite the difficulties they have been through, none of the participants showed any resentment or anger in their filmmaking. Instead, they wanted to demonstrate the importance of rising with forgiveness, compassion and unity. As they repeated many times during the week: “All we want is peace.”

“If you are alone you cannot move forward. But if we are together we are stronger, we can achieve a better future, have a better community and build better relationships between the peoples of our country,” Augustino Dak, 30. Photo: Amanda Nero/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

In the first week of December, our team hosted its final workshop for this year in Geneva, Switzerland. Well known for being the world’s humanitarian capital, Geneva also hosts many migrant communities.

In such a setting, it was a must for our project to give voice to migrants who make the long journey to Geneva. Some come to reunite with their families, others come to study, but many come fleeing conflict and poverty in their homelands.

To enable migrants living in Geneva to film their stories, the Festival partnered with the Centre de la Roseraie, an institution that welcomes, trains and supports migrants to build a better future.

Group photo of the Geneva workshop participants. Photo: Fernanda Baumhard/NORCAP 2017

Group photo of the Geneva workshop participants. Photo: Fernanda Baumhard/NORCAP 2017

Photo: Fernanda Baumhard/NORCAP 2017

Photo: Fernanda Baumhard/NORCAP 2017

The second edition of the Film Festival provided a unique opportunity for global audiences to see short films on the perils of forced and voluntary migration from migrants themselves.

The participatory videos produced in Geneva and Jordan were shown during two of our screenings in Geneva. The video produced during our South Sudan workshop was screened in Juba, South Sudan, itself.

Participatory Video screening in Malakal, SouthSudan. Photo: Fernanda Baumhardt/NORCAP (2017)

The workshops were made possible through the generous support of the IOM Development Fund and NORCAP (Norwegian Refugee Council’s expert deployment capacity).