Pagella in tasca - Education Pathways for Refugee Children
The project in brief
The project is implemented by INTERSOS in Niger and Italy. It began in March 2020 and will be completed in December 2024.
The project, promoted by INTERSOS in cooperation with UNHCR, the Municipality of Turin and other partners, aims at piloting a complementary pathway specifically dedicated to refugee unaccompanied minors, often excluded from other existing legal pathways. Unaccompanied children aged 16-17, recognized as refugees in Niger, enter Italy with a student visa provided for by Italian law. The children are hosted by foster families, potentially up to the age of 21, and attend school and vocational training.
The project aims at piloting a complementary pathway for refugee unaccompanied minors, promoting their entry from Niger to Italy with a student visa and their reception and integration in Italy through a community-based programme.
This education pathway is highly innovative compared to the channels currently active (resettlement, humanitarian corridors, University corridors etc.), as it is:
- specifically designed for the protection of unaccompanied minors, who are paradoxically excluded from humanitarian corridors and from most other legal pathways, even though they are one of the most vulnerable groups of refugees;
- aimed at promoting the right to education and based on the issue of a student visa, provided for by Italian law for minors between 15 and 17 years old, but to date never used to promote the entry of refugee minors;
- based on “community sponsorship” through the involvement of foster families and voluntary guardians, as well as CSOs (including refugee led associations), Municipalities and schools.
Elements that facilitated the implementation of the project included:
- Italian law providing a student visa for children aged 15-17.
- A national Memorandum of Understanding signed by INTERSOS, UNHCR, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies, the Turin Municipality and the other project partners (https://www.intersos.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Protocollo-dintesa-nazionale-PAGELLA-IN-TASCA-Canali-di-studio-per-minori-rifugiati.pdf).
- The willingness and capacity of the Municipality of Turin to receive the refugee unaccompanied children and to select and support the foster families, in cooperation with INTERSOS and the other partners.
- The willingness and capacity of the foster families to host, take care and support the integration of the refugee children.
- Strict cooperation between INTERSOS and UNHCR in Italy and Niger.
- Funding from the Catholic Church (CEI - Italian Bishops Conference and Migrantes Foundation), bank foundations (Acri and Compagnia di San Paolo) and the EU Commission (within the COMET project).
Main activities of the Good Practice
A first group of 5 refugee children entered Italy from Niger in October 2021, while a second group of 4 arrived in October 2022.
All the participants are unaccompanied children aged 16-17, originating from Darfur, and recognized as refugees in Niger. The identification of the candidates, carried out by INTERSOS in cooperation with UNHCR, is mainly based on the child’s commitment to study.
The children enter Italy with a student visa, issued upon demonstration of a registration in an Italian school, a scholarship, guarantees regarding accommodation and protection in Italy, a best interests of the child’s determination report and the consent of the parents, in case they have been traced.
In Italy, the participants are hosted by foster families, selected and checked by the social services of the Municipality of Turin, and trained by INTERSOS.
The children attend middle school, secondary school and vocational training.
With the support of their guardians, the unaccompanied minors decide whether to apply for asylum or for a residence permit for study.
Support by educators and cultural mediators, as well as legal and psychological support, are provided to the children and the foster families. The project also provides a scholarship for each child for a period of 12 months.
At the end of the 12 months, the costs of the child/youth’s accommodation and integration programme are covered by the Municipality social services, until the age of 18 or, if the protection measures are extended, to the age of 21.
- UNHCR Italy
- UNHCR Niger
- Municipality of Turin
- Diocese of Turin – Pastoral Office for Migrants
- Network of CPIA Schools of Piemonte
- Mosaico – Azioni per i rifugiati
- Associazione Frantz Fanon
Signatories to the MOU on the implementation ot the project "Pagella in tasca - Education Pathways for Refugee Children:
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Ministry of Interior
- Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
- Migrantes Foundation of the Italian Bishops Conference
What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?
- The procedures in Niger have been extremely lengthy, especially those regarding the documentation needed to apply for the student visa (recognition of the refugee status, best interests of the child determination, family tracing etc.). The delays in the departure have produced serious stress both in the children and in the foster families who were waiting to receive them.
- Multi-country projects are in general quite complex.
- The risk of secondary movements towards other European countries is especially high among Sudanese asylum seekers.
- Hosting the children in foster families rather than in reception centers is quite challenging because identifying, training and supporting families (who are volunteers, not professionals) is much more complex and because the process requires strict cooperation with social services that are often overworked. Also, cultural differences between the refugee children and the foster families often produce misunderstandings.
- The significant increase in the arrivals of unaccompanied children to Italy in 2022 and 2023 has dramatically worsened the overworking of the Turin Municipality social services staff responsible for selecting the foster families and supporting the children and the families.
- After the military coup in Niger in July 2023, INTERSOS and UNHCR needed to evacuate part of the staff, including the staff working on the project. It is unclear at the moment whether it is possible to continue the project or not.
How they were overcome
- In order to address the stress produced by the delays in the departure, we have provided continuous support to the children in Niger and to the foster families in Italy.
- A crucial role in the project has been played by the cultural mediators, who have supported the children and the foster families in better understanding each other, overcoming misunderstandings and mutually adapting.
- In order to reduce the risk of secondary movements of the children participating in the project, we have carried out several post-arrival orientation sessions, in cooperation with UNHCR, the refugee-led association Mosaico and representatives of the Sudanese diaspora.
- The choice to host the children in foster families rather than in reception centers has probably reduced the risk of secondary movements of the children to other European countries without proper documentation.
Results of the Good Practice
- Nine refugee unaccompanied children originating from Darfur, who were living in refugee camps in Niger with no access to education and other fundamental rights, had the opportunity to be transferred to Italy through a legal and safe pathway. In Italy they had the opportunity to study and to be hosted by foster families that took care of them and facilitated their integration.
- The foster families had the opportunity of a cultural exchange and the awareness they have “saved a life”. They also appreciated a sense of community thanks to the relationship built with the other families.
In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?
Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries
Promoting the transfer of refugee unaccompanied minors from Niger to Italy, the project eases the pressure on Niger, the main country of asylum in West Africa, hosting an estimated 700,000 forcibly displaced people in search of international protection.
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
The project promotes the right to education of refugee unaccompanied children and their right to live in a family, that are crucial elements in enhancing self-reliance of these children.
Objective 3: Expand access to third-country solutions
The project expands the opportunity to access complementary pathways to Italy by unaccompanied children, so far excluded from humanitarian corridors and from most other legal pathways, even though they are one of the most vulnerable groups of refugees.
“We talk, we laugh, we joke together like we wouldn't have imagined doing in such a short time…. I think the most important thing happened this evening: via WhatsApp he introduced us to his mother and sisters. It was very emotional!”, Davide, foster parent
After the military coup in Niger in July 2023, it is unclear at the moment whether it is possible to continue the project in this country or not.
The first results of the pilot project, however, show that it is possible to include unaccompanied minors in complementary pathways, even though the procedures are much more complex than for adults, and taught us some important lessons on the project's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and risks.
Taking into consideration these lessons, we would like to broaden the project involving more countries hosting significant populations of refugee unaccompanied children, as well as include children of different nationalities and gender.
We hope that the experience and procedures developed within this project may be inspiring for other initiatives promoting refugee unaccompanied minors’ legal and safe entry also from and to other countries, adequately adapted to the different contexts and refugee populations.
Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?
We would appreciate support in identifying more countries hosting significant populations of refugee unaccompanied children and having the willingness and capacity of facilitating the implementation of this education pathway to Italy.
Elena Rozzi, Coordinator of "Pagella intasca - Education pathways for refugee children" Project, INTERSOS, Italy