According to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, in 2018 more than 80% of the minors who arrived in Italy were unaccompanied: 3,536 children fleeing their countries of origin, alone and without families.
The reasons are often recurrent: the search for better living conditions for one's future and personal security, escape from conflict, persecution, extreme poverty, hunger.
The absence of adult references in many cases produces serious consequences linked to the fate of the child: they risk becoming victims of violence, abuse, exploitation and mistreatment, or entering the prostitution business, which increasingly involves young women not yet of age.
But who is an unaccompanied minor from a legal point of view?
According to Arctic 1 paragraph 2 of the DPCM n.535/1999 "minor present in the territory of the unaccompanied state" means: "A minor who is not an Italian citizen or a minor from other States of the European Union who, having not applied for asylum, is for any reason in the territory of the State without assistance and representation by parents or other adults legally responsible for him/her according to the laws in force in the Italian legal system".
Every unaccompanied minor present on the Italian territory, according to the laws in force, must be reported to the competent authorities. In particular, depending on the case: the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Juvenile Court, the Protective Judge or the Committee for Foreign Minors. Following the discovery of the illegitimate presence on Italian territory of the unaccompanied foreign minor, it is foreseen that the same is not expelled on the basis of the principle of inexpulsion (absolute prohibition of rejection at the border); however, in order to maintain the family unity, the practice of assisted repatriation is foreseen.
According to the principle of inexpulsion mentioned above, unaccompanied minors have the right to obtain a temporary residence permit. Law 47/ 2017 in art. 10 provides that foreign unaccompanied minors, in addition to the possibility to receive a permit for international protection, can obtain two types of residence permit: the permit for minors and the permit for family reasons.
The residence permit for minors has the right to apply for any unaccompanied minor and will be granted until the age of majority.
The residence permit for family reasons (art. 10, letter b) can be issued in case of a foreign minor: subject to the protection of an Italian citizen or a foreign citizen legally residing and living with his guardian; entrusted to an Italian citizen or a foreign citizen legally residing, according to art. 4 of Law 184/1983.
Italian law also provides for the possibility for a minor who is in special circumstances to apply for international protection.
The minor's request, which will be made in agreement with his/her Tutor, will be examined by a group of people, the Territorial Commission for the Recognition of International Protection, who will have the task of deciding on the minor's future. In order to act in the child's best interest, he or she will often be interviewed and given the opportunity to tell his or her story.
Finally, the Commission will decide whether to offer protection and, if so, which type, opting for the one that best corresponds to the situation the child has experienced. There are three different types of international protection that the Italian State grants, depending on whether the person flees the war or asks for assistance for other specific and individual reasons.
At the age of eighteen the right not to be expelled lapses, the newcomers can then apply for the conversion of the residence permit for minors into a permit for study, work or expected employment. Even if the condition of the newcomer in Italy, who does not have a residence permit, is complex and a large part of the protection he enjoyed during his minor age is lost.
It should be noted that with the Legislative Decree no. 113/18 (so-called Salvini Decree), converted into Law no. 132/18, the request for international protection has become much more complex to obtain and, although it does not specifically concern unaccompanied minors, it has an extremely significant impact on their status, especially after they reach the age of majority.
In the case that the unaccompanied foreign minor receives the denial of international protection before the age of 18, he can obtain a residence permit for minors and, if he meets certain requirements, he can then convert it at the age of majority into a permit for study, work or expected employment.
If, on the other hand, the application for international protection was rejected after the age of 18, most police headquarters would not allow the newcomer to apply for a residence permit for study, work or expected employment, even if he or she met the requirements. In such cases, subjects usually lose the opportunity to regularise themselves.
Before the decree law the requirements within which international protection was granted were more favourable for foreign minors.