Unaccompanied Minors in Greece and Italy: An Exploration of the Challenges for Social Work within Tighter Immigration and Resource Constraints in Pandemic Times

Ravinder Barn, Roberta Teresa Di Rosa and Theano Kallinikaki - Social Sciences

Abstract: The number of unaccompanied minors (UAMs) arriving in the European Union (EU) has been increasing dramatically over recent years resulting in the formulation of EU policy directives around safeguarding and well-being. Notably, the majority of UAMs enter Europe irregularly through two main gateways to the European continent: via Italy, using the Central Mediterranean Sea route; or through Greece, transiting through the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey, mostly via sea. Profiles of UAMs travelling via the two different routes are significantly diverse, reflecting Italy’s and Greece’s geographical proximity to North Africa and the Middle East, respectively. Although Italy has witnessed a decline since 2018 (Todaro and Romano 2019), the two countries have faced a significant increase in UAMs, and this has required a considerable reorganisation of the reception systems and, more generally, of their welfare systems. However, difficulties in securing adequate reception for UAMs seeking protection have persisted in both countries. Through an analysis of the impact of the pandemic on the Italian and Greek reception systems and social interventions with UAMs, we utilised a multiple embedded case study approach within a comparative analysis, to identify key changes in the main services which should be guaranteed to minors—namely, hosting/housing, guardianship, foster care, family/relatives reunification, school integration, language, job training for care leaving, and preparation for leaving care after 18 years (Di Rosa 2017; Buchanan and Kallinikaki 2018; Barn et al. 2020). Against a background of critical reviews of the main issues related to policies and reported social work practice in a context of COVID-19 precarity, set within a wider EU framework, this paper contributes to the literature with an analysis of the current situation and the tightening of the conditions of reception, inclusion and integration that await UAMs in these gateway countries today. We conclude that with the suspension of key services and amenities, and with a practical halt to the due process of immigration and asylum, social workers are facing a difficult challenge to prevent the deterioration of UAMs’ mental health and well-being.