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First response (Part 1)

Video about identifying unaccompanied and separated children
When an NGO ship carries out a rescue at sea, it would subsequently contact the Italian Coastguard, which has larger assets. The migrants rescued by the NGO ship would then be transferred on board the Italian Coastguard ship. This would allow the Aquarius, the Sea-Watch, and the other NGO ships to ensure their presence at sea, and to carry out more rapid rescues. The Italian Coastguard could also take care of the rescued migrants, and sail back (as a full ship) to the closest port of safety, which was in Italy. Basically, when an NGO ship rescued migrants, these were transferred to the Coastguard ship. The INTERSOS staff would then go about with their child protection procedures, and give basic information to the migrants.
In that area, towards the back part of the ship, the CISOM personnel carries out the health screening operations, and then the INTERSOS staff, a mediator, a humanitarian worker, and oftentimes a psychologist, would assess people’s vulnerability. Our main goal was to have a list with the data concerning unaccompanied or separated children, that would allow us to quickly communicate to all the different workers that would be present at disembarkation. Why? Because if I can communicate to Save the Children or IOM where these people are from, they can immediately select the right language mediator needed at disembarkation. The INTERSOS staff on board the Coastguard ship would also provide basic information to the migrants.
We would inform them, and we would suggest that they state their true age. By stating their true age, they would be sent on the right pathway within the Italian care and protection system. The data that we collected was always matched to the data collected by the Italian coastguard. They would collect ages and nationalities, and the data collected was subsequently matched to our data in order to have an Italian Coastguard Unicef and INTERSOS official document We didn’t want to have any discrepancies. That document was then sent out to the staff present at disembarkation. The humanitarian staff and the military personnel on board the Italian Coastguard ships worked closely. But the interpreter was provided by UNICEF.
That’s crucial, because you have people coming from a similar context but speaking different languages. And when you are in a stressful situation, and you have to collect and give clear, detailed information, you want to have someone who speaks your language. The project was launched also because the Italian Coastguard asked UNICEF to improve what the Italian Coastguard had been doing for years in the Mediterranean. They understood that they were lacking a humanitarian approach during the rescue operations. These are of course military assets, specialised in rescue operations, but not in protection operations. They needed to train the Coastguard staff. The best thing to do was to share our skills with a protection by presence approach, with a training on the job approach.
That’s why we were on board the Italian Coastguard ships. We taught the personnel our humanitarian approach. We trained them, and we redefined with them the best way to intervene. We also created a shared guideline, that could be followed even once UNICEF
would have left the ship. This way, a different ship and a different crew could be aware of what they had to do during these kinds of interventions.

In this video we hear from Diego Pandiscia who works for the NGO INTERSOS in Sicily. Diego describes the work of INTERSOS and their first response when boats carrying refugees and migrants enter Italian waters off the coast of Sicily. We hear about the importance of ensuring that unaccompanied and separated children are immediately identified. We also hear about the collection of other information that can be shared with organisations who will respond to immediate needs.

Diego tells us how staff of INTERSOS work alongside Italian coastguards. He also speaks about the importance of training and how INTERSOS has helped to build capacity of the Italian coastguards in partnership with UNICEF.

Although the particular example in this film is about the arrival of unaccompanied and separated children by sea, the process and the care that is taken is applicable to first response and identification in other contexts. Not only is it important we correctly identify a child as a child, but we must also find out whether they are unaccompanied or separated. If you are responsible for making such initial decisions, it is vital they are accurate and take a child’s best interests into consideration.

Your actions can set a child on their pathway for life. For example, children have told us that errors like misspelling of their name or a wrong age determination subsequently affected legal procedures and other important decisions for many years afterwards. They were denied the opportunity of family reunification, wrongly placed in adult reception centres and even imprisoned in adult detention centres.

Even if they seem to be travelling in the company of adults, it is still essential to find out whether a child is unaccompanied or separated. When a child is travelling with an adult who is not a parent or customary/legal carer, you should check what the relationship between the child and adult is. We should also consider the suitability of children who are separated – not travelling with their parents or legal/customary carers – but who are with other relatives, remaining with these family members who are looking after them. As long as the child is not at risk of harm, it is often in the child’s best interests to keep the family group together.

It is particularly important not to separate siblings who arrive together unless there is a clear risk of abuse or other justification in the best interests of the child. When a group of brothers and sisters arrive together, but are identified as being unaccompanied or separated, all efforts must be made to keep them together.

As we noted on the previous course page, we should also be aware that not all unaccompanied and separated children want to be identified as children. Some prefer to avoid contact with officials and services – perhaps because of a previous bad experience. To do this they might provide incorrect information or enter a country unofficially, away from an official border. They might pretend to be adults. They might tell us the adult they are travelling with is a parent or legal/customary carer when actually they are not related at all.

Again, let us remember how our decisions about a child being unaccompanied or separated can affect their rights to care and protection. It can also effect processes of family tracing, reunification and determination of other long term solutions.

The ‘See Also’ section below has links to other reading material that may be of interest to you.

This article is from the free online

Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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