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Lampedusa: recovering lost childhoods

Young migrant boy making a phone call at the reception center in Lampedusa, Italy. Migrants are given a card on arrival to make a call home.
Young migrant boy making a phone call at the reception centre in Lampedusa, Italy. Migrants are given a card on arrival to make a call home.

The gate closes and the ferry sails away from Lampedusa – a tiny Italian island 70 miles north of Tunisia – on route to Sicily 109 miles away.

On board are over 80 children who 12 days ago survived one of the most treacherous sea crossings in the world. They came to Italy on rickety boats in search of a chance to regain a childhood lost in conflict.

17-year-old Yusuf from Gaza, “lived by the bullet.” He never had a childhood, every second in Gaza he feared he would be killed.

Yusuf fled Gaza, crossing through Lebanon, Sudan and Libya before he reached Lampedusa.  On route he was put in jail and beaten before a video was sent back to Yusuf’s family to extract a ransom. His life had a price: $4,000.

Yusuf breaks down and says: “I want a future, I just want to be human.”

A huge responsibility

Stories like Yusuf’s are all too common.

Since January, at least 26,000 children have set off for Italy, enduring rough seas while crammed into boats with hundreds of others. They don’t know if they will live, or drown in the Mediterranean, but they know they have to escape the hell they have left behind.

Save the Children works in partnership with UNHCR, IOM and the Red Cross at the first reception centre set up on Lampedusa  to support the children, identify their immediate needs and explain their rights.

Our team has a huge responsibility. The cultural mediator, Aman, is trained in child psychology, speaks five languages and provides translation services. He was a refugee himself, from Eritrea. He knows what it is like to arrive here driven by hope but with no money or documents.

Lisa, a legal advisor, ensures that minors understand the legal process and their rights, and starts reunification with family members in Europe. She begins by explaining they have a right to be safe, live without persecution and get an education, saying “Education is the most powerful tool you can have for your future.”

Recovering a sense of normality

Aman and Lisa are on call 24 hours a day. They are the first faces children see when they disembark and the last ones waving goodbye when the children sail away to Sicily, and facilities better equipped to support children.

As the children board the ferry they are smiling, a stark contrast to when they arrived. It’s an emotional time for the team and I feel proud of the work Save the Children does here. We exist to help the most vulnerable; this is a vivid reminder of the difference we make to children’s lives.

But the number of migrants is on the increase. The deteriorating situation in sub-Saharan and West Africa, coupled with the conflict in Syria, is fuelling migration flow.

Just as the ferry departs, we get word that another boat carrying migrants is on its way.

Our team will be there for that boat, and for child migrants arriving for days, months and years to come. They will help them recover a sense of normality, and give them a chance to be children again.

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