Every year in Italy around a thousand people disappear. This phenomenon in recent years has seen a serious and worrying increase due to the mass immigration. Alarming figures for the ministry of the Interior, which, despite the strategies put in place, still fails to find a solution to the problem. The prefect Vittorio Piscitelli, from 2013 Extraordinary Commissioner for missing persons, is first in line in the activity to combat the phenomenon. In Terris interviewed him.
Mr. Piscitelli is it true that Italy is among the most sensitive countries to the problem of the disappeared people?
“Yes, it is true. Italy is the only European country in which a government institution dedicated to people who have disappeared was created. The work has increased due to migrant landings. Apart from those who have died in the Mediterranean, there are many who arrive to the reception centres of whom we lose track, especially minors”.
“They are unaccompanied children, adolescents. According to our mentality we would never put a child on a barge and let him leave, but it is desperation that pushes these parents. They do not really know what to expect on the other side of the Mediterranean. Sometimes they entrust them to relatives or friends, other times they are the parents themselves that await them in Europe, but they do not see them arrive. A 6 years old Syrian girl was expected by her parents in Spain, but she never arrived, she was with two adults who claimed to be the uncles, but it was not true, now we are looking for her with the Interpol”.
Which countries do they flee from?
“Particularly Eritrea, where at the age of 13 or 14 they could be enlisted in the army and sent in combat missions. Currently in Rome there is a rather big group that comes from Egypt, in particular from a region of the Nile Delta; we do not have evidence, but we suppose that there is an organization that brings them in Italy and then exploits them”.
It is difficult to think of children alone…
“When they arrive in our country they do not think to stay, they have a project. Unfortunately, during the journey or even in the reception centres they are robbed of everything, including money and documents if ever they have them. At that point, they become victims of criminals that without any scruples direct them towards delinquency or prostitution or worse to trafficking in human beings”.
What happens when they land?
“There are specialised team for their hospitality. Some of them, especially adolescents, are difficult to identify, because they provide false data. Often there are adults who look younger and we cannot take the dental impressions of all of them. Some come only to spend the winter, then as soon as they can they flee, crossing borders and we can no longer take them back because even in the country of destination they use false identities. Much depends on the place where they land. Sometimes, in fact, they are not informed of the fact that, as minors, they have the right to special protection. The courts of minors take care of them and then there is a network of volunteer tutors. We have a system that protects them. Even though many are resistant to discipline and flee”.
How important are the reception centres?
“Very, unfortunately as we have seen, criminal organizations have put their hands on some of them. Consequently, the activity of legality that the Government carries on is largely hindered, but there is a big commitment. There is also a project with the Ministry of Welfare to create activities of inclusion in the labour market. We do so much, but it is not advertised, the common people do not know how much we are committed”.
What can we still do?
“Understanding that we have a criticality is already a step forward. The management of the disappearance requires first of all a bigger investment on the prevention side, defining in detail a concrete action. To increase the visibility of this issue we should activate a system similar to the American ‘Namus’, a national system connected to an ‘open’ website that can be implemented from the outside and that is accessible online even by the families and by anyone who wants to make useful reports”.
What can a common citizen do?
“Indicate anomalous behaviour of adults, indicate when a child is alone, visibly tired and/or mistreated. In this regard, there are not only immigrant children, there are also others abducted and sold. Everyone must have a civic consciousness and not turn our face on the other side. We help the child, not the forces of order”.