Intersos brings unaccompanied minors to Italy to complete their primary and secondary education through the Pagella in Tasca programme. Pagella in Tasca is one of the programmes participating in the COMET network of legal pathways facilitating a new start for people in need of international protection.

Elena Rozzi, Project Coordinator, explains that Pagella in Tasca is the first complementary pathways project dedicated to unaccompanied minors. Those participating are mostly from Sudan and have refugee status in Niger.

The project was launched in 2021 and is aimed at promoting the right to study. It is based on a community sponsorship programme whereby foster families, with the support of municipalities and schools, are entrusted to take care of beneficiaries. The Collaboration with the Municipality of Turin, the Municipality of Asti, a network of schools and CPIA (Centri provinciali per l’istruzione degli adulti – Provincial Centres for Adult Education) has been extremely fruitful and constructive during the first two years.

To be eligible, beneficiaries must be aged between 16 and 17, and they must have already been recognized as refugees in Niger. A fundamental criterion is the motivation to study, even though they have not had the chance to follow an educational path so far. Their commitment is evaluated through interviews and by monitoring their attendance at the educational activities that are promoted in the camps in Niger.

The foster families are selected by the social services of the local authorities involved, as beneficiaries are unaccompanied minors and must be under institutional protection. Families must follow a training course provided by Intersos where they can share experiences with families who have already welcomed unaccompanied minors.

To become a foster family, you need to have time and the ability to welcome and support a minor who has a different cultural background, and who could have suffered traumatic experiences. There are no age limits or other specific requirements. The essential requirement is the physical and mental space to enhance the potential of each of these young people and the ability to accompany them in their personal path towards autonomy. Families also work with project staff (social services, volunteers etc.).

The feedback from the first group who arrived in October 2021 and from the second group within Comet who arrived in October 2022 has been very positive. The beneficiaries were welcomed by their host families about 1 month after their arrival. In addition to the emotional and affective aspect, living with families facilitates the integration process by supporting learning Italian, helping their educational path, and providing the benefits of having a family network. The beneficiaries have all shown great educational commitment.

The main challenge has been the slowness of the pre-departure, due to the complexity of the procedures involving unaccompanied minors. To safeguard the best interest of the minor, the evaluation must be done through a specific and careful process, which guarantees that departure is actually the best choice.

Another difficulty concerns the expectations of beneficiaries who hope to have immediate economic resources. The cultural mediators’ role is essential to bridge expectations and reality. They also help families manage various problems and requests, or any cultural differences that may emerge.

Another challenge is managing the hope of some beneficiaries to move to other European countries. Work with COMET partners Mosaico and Franz Fanon is crucial in mitigating these expectations and in finding new ways to enable more effective integration.