Contact Iolanda Genovese via Email
Research Officer (Former title)
Iolanda Genovese is a Research Officer on the Migration Programme at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti. She is currently working on a multi-country research on Children on the Move in the Horn and North of Africa and a research on returnee children in Afghanistan. Iolanda has technical expertise in field-based research on child migration, displacement and urban refugees and has worked with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia, Kenya and Italy. Prior to UNICEF, she led child protection programmes for unaccompanied and separated children (UASCs) in Sicily as part of the migration crisis response in the Mediterranean for various non-government organizations – including Oxfam, focusing on guardianship, alternative care and socio-economic integration. She also has lengthy experience running development and humanitarian programmes in Burundi, Tanzania and Peru. Iolanda holds an MSc from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) - University of London, in Violence, Conflict and Development.
Reimagining Migration Responses in Sudan: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report
Migration is a regular feature of life in Sudan and the broader region. It takes multiple forms and is driven by numerous factors, including personal aspirations, curiosity, problems accessing a livelihood in the context of poverty and economic exclusion, and forced displacement stemming from political persecution, armed conflict, or natural disasters. Children and young people make up a significant portion of the upwards of 3 million migrants in Sudan. Yet there is limited understanding of the ways in which children and young people view migration, or of the opportunities and risks that it poses for them. As part of a regional research series, 467 quantitative interviews were conducted with children and young people in Sudan. The data from these interviews provide insights from children and young people themselves. Building on the findings, the research suggests a number of principles and concrete actions to create a more protective environment for children and young people on their migration journeys.
Reimagining Migration Responses in Somaliland and Puntland: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report
Migration is a regular feature of life in the Horn of Africa. It takes multiple forms and is driven by numerous factors, including personal aspirations, economic exclusion and forced displacement as a consequence of inter-ethnic communal violence or natural disasters. As part of a regional research series and based specifically on 418 quantitative interviews carried out in 2019, with children and young people in Somaliland and Puntland, this report provides a deeper understanding of their perceptions and feelings around safety, well-being and their protective environments. It also provides a snapshot of their access to services and resources, and their trust in authorities and other service providers. The report concludes by offering policy and programme recommendations that can help rethink child protection approaches for migrant children and young people.
Reimagining Migration Responses in Ethiopia: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report.
Migration is a regular feature of life in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region. It takes multiple forms and is driven by numerous factors, including personal aspirations, economic exclusion and forced displacement as a consequence of inter-ethnic communal violence or natural disasters. As part of a regional research series and based specifically on interviews carried out in 2019 with 405 migrant children and young people in Ethiopia, this report provides a deeper understanding of their perceptions and feelings around safety, well-being and their protective environments. It also provides a snapshot of their access to services and resources, and their trust in authorities and other service providers in Ethiopia. The report concludes by offering policy and programme recommendations that can help rethink child protection approaches for migrant children and young people in Ethiopia
Children on the move in East Africa: Research insights to mitigate COVID-19
Migration is a core coping strategy for many children and young people across the globe, whether on their own or with their families. But it can also make children and young people vulnerable to further harm and deprivation in the absence of adequate and reliable services and social and economic support. While levels of vulnerability are dependent on multiple factors, COVID-19 is likely to pose an additional threat for those who are in transit, and those who have moved away from their homes and are living in uncertain circumstances. The protection of migrant children needs to be a central component of the COVID-19 response. We were scared to ask anyone else for help.If your friends won’t help you, then why would anyone else? - Young female migrant, 19 years old, SomaliaUNICEF Innocenti is leading a research study across Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan exploring the harms, vulnerabilities and wellbeing of children and young people who have left their homes either out of choice or coercion. Over 1,200 children and young people (aged between 14 and 24 years) were surveyed in 2019 and insights from this data point to a number of challenges likely to be faced by both girls and boys, many of whom live in squalid and cramped conditions, in the context of public health responses to curbing the spread of the coronavirus/COVID-19. First, the emphasis on handwashing assumes at a minimum access to water and soap. Yet in our research sample, almost four in ten (37%) of children and young people on the move do not have access to facilities to wash themselves. This is true for those living in camps as well as those in urban or other areas. As health authorities urge people to wash their hands regularly as an effective way to stop virus transmission, this lack of access puts those who have moved away from their homes in much greater harm. [caption id="attachment_2440" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mubarak Mohammed Hashi, 20, driving his taxi in Hargeisa, Somaliland, first left home when he was 17 years old in search of what he hoped would be a better life abroad.[/caption] Furthermore, it is not just hygiene and washing facilities that are lacking for these vulnerable children. Many children and young people on the move are excluded from other basic services: one in four have not been able to access health services when they needed them, one in four reported being unable to access shelter or accommodation, and two in five have not been able to go to school when they wanted to. COVID-19 is likely to place further strain on struggling public services, either through greater demand (health) or closures (schools). Inevitably, the result will be more vulnerable children unable to get basic support. Second, many global and national policy responses to COVID-19 – such as lockdown and quarantine - require family and social networks being available to provide support in a time of crisis. Yet in our research sample, one in five children and young people on the move report living alone (and this is more so for boys than girls). As a result, it is likely that they will find it much harder to get the help they need, particularly if the state and public services come under greater strain as the COVID-19 disease spreads. Programmes of support should therefore make sure they can support even the hardest-to-reach vulnerable groups. Where mechanisms such as social distancing and isolation are called for, it cannot be assumed that children and young people have a safe space to which they can retreat. Third, experience so far shows that providing simple, credible information on what the public should or must do is a core part of the strategies for slowing the spread of the virus. Quite rightly, many governments and health agencies are using digital platforms to engage the public, and to allow services such as schooling to be delivered by digital means. However, this assumes access to the internet, and yet our findings show that as few as one in four children and young people on the move had access to the Internet (and as low as 15% for 14-17 years old). Language and other cultural barriers were also seen to present a significant challenge for those who were outside of their country of origin. Communications and engagement campaigns therefore must also unlock non-digital assets and be aware of the need for linguistically and culturally relevant messaging. Boys play football near Hargeisa, Somaliland, a territory that has been particularly affected by ongoing drier and hotter conditions, with the delayed and projected below-average rains.Furthermore, not only are messages that are scientifically grounded important, but so are the messengers for effective communication: issues of trust are crucial in ensuring that people comply with key messaging. Our research suggests that police and government officials are among the least trusted groups for migrant children, while many more have confidence in social workers, religious groups, international charities and teachers. Therefore, it is imperative that governments continue to fund and support these actors to continue to provide much needed information and support to reach migrant children and young people. Fourth, even while we head into the eye of this particular storm it is also important to consider the medium to long-term economic consequences of the health pandemic. Economic concern was a contributing factor for why two in every three child or young person first moved from their home area. If economies are hard hit over the next few months, it is very likely that this will lead to an increase in children and young people being compelled to leave their homes in search of jobs and safety. The impacts of COVID-19 and policy responses on current migrants should not be underestimated. Already at the receiving end of stigma and discrimination, safe migration routes are only likely to shrink further, leaving migrant children and young people further exposed to risks of exploitation in order to facilitate their journeys. Our research points to some of the harms associated with smuggling and trafficking networks in the region. With humanitarian services already stretched far beyond capacity, the economic fallout will only create further negative consequences for those who are already vulnerable. Furthermore, with increasing border closures and regulation, migrant children and young people are likely to find it harder to be united with families who have already migrated or to return home safely. And with so much attention on the demands of a pandemic, mechanisms for protection – such that they are – will only be stretched thinner. ------------------------------------------------ The findings presented here are based on a DFID-funded project on Understanding the Perceptions, Experiences and Vulnerabilities of Children and Young People on the Move in the Horn of Africa. A comprehensive research report is currently being drafted and will be published in the second half of 2020. However, given the seriousness of the current pandemic, UNICEF Innocenti has produced this blog with analysis of relevant findings to provide useful insights to support governments and agencies responsible for protecting and supporting children on the move Additional resources UN Migration Network Statement ‘Covid-19 Does not discriminate, nor should our response’ (20 March 2020): https://migrationnetwork.un.org/statements/covid-19-does-not-discriminate-nor-should-our-response United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): What you need to know about the virus to protect you and your family’. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/covid-19 Henrietta Fore (UNICEF) ‘Time is running out to protect refugees from a coronavirus crisis, Aljazeera, 31 March 2020. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/time-running-protect-refugees-coronavirus-crisis-200330063002696.html
How voluntary guardianship for unaccompanied minors took root in Sicily
“You gave me back my dignity. I will never forget that you even gave me underwear. Without which I would have to wait for 15 days! You have always been there whenever I needed you. Even after 4 years, you are taking care of me.”These are the words of Amadou, regarding the network of guardians called Accoglierete, in southern Italy. I had the opportunity to work with him as guardian in 2013. Amadou is now 21, lives in Rome and works in a supermarket. We are still in touch. Based on my professional and personal experience as a guardian, I offer some recent insights on Sicily’s voluntary guardianship programmes for unaccompanied minors.With the 2016 New York declaration for Refugees and Migrants 193 States committed to save the lives of migrants and refugees; to protect their rights and share the responsibility for meeting these universal duties. United Nations agencies are leading the development of two global compacts on refugees and migration. However, there is some criticism that their non-binding nature may undermine their good intentions, as shown by United States dropping out and the underfunding of emergency responses. Nevertheless, States and civil society good practices are already taking place as revealed in the UNICEF report Beyond Borders.Building on UNICEF’s Agenda for Action for Refugees and Migrant Children, this report shows that the goals of providing children with a safe home, safe passage and safe destination is possible. Italy offers a good example of a community-based initiative, recently endorsed by law, for providing care and support for these children. The arrival of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) has seriously affected the country’s geo-political, economic and socio-cultural landscape with the number standing at 15,779 in 2017, according to UNHCR. In April 2017 Italy approved a comprehensive law (Zampa law 47/2017) establishing protection procedures for unaccompanied minors.When voluntary guardianship works properly, and the child feels a connection with the guardian—that another human being genuinely cares—it has a powerful effect on reducing abuse, exploitation and harm.Italian authorities further acknowledged that ‘institutional’ guardianship was not effective and recognized the added value that active citizenship could bring in protecting unaccompanied children. Accordingly, one of the main objectives in the Zampa law is the promotion of foster care and the enhancement of the guardianship system by involving and training locals as volunteer guardians.The guardian is defined as an independent person who safeguards a child’s best interests and general well-being, and to this effect complements the limited legal capacity of the child (CRC/GC/2005/6). In Italy, guardianship is voluntary and not remunerated. To become a guardian (or 'tutore') the interested person needs to participate in a training promoted by the regional authorities for children and adolescents, her/his designation is lately formalized by the Juvenile Court. While families interested in fostering care should approach the local social services in charge. Community-based associations and NGOs often facilitate contact between citizens and those institutions providing support.The guardian ensures that the child is well informed and legally assisted, that their best interests are properly assessed, crucially, with the child’s active participation. No one better than the child himself knows his migration project (progetto migratorio). In Italy, progetto migratorio literally translates to “migration project,” emphasizing each migrant’s individual experience.A pizza making class in Centro Astante which supports the registration and asylum application process for young migrants who arrive in Italy.For example, in the context of children, it includes the causes for each child to leave his homeland, his ambitions and plans, both short-term and long-term. When necessary the guardian facilitates the child’s voice being heard and ensures that material, social, health, psychological, and educational needs are met. As such, guardians become part of each child’s story as the main facilitator in allowing the child to pursue his progetto migratorio.I have also become part of Amadou’s story and personally experienced the positive differences that proper guardianship can make in the life of an unaccompanied child. I have taken part, as a practitioner and previously as a guardian, in an incredible bottom-up effort taking place in Sicily, called AccoglieRete. In response to the massive protection needs of thousands of unaccompanied children arriving since 2013, locals in Siracusa, Sicily came together as both volunteer guardians and foster families, and united under AccoglieRete. This practice, to an extent, helped pioneer the new Zampa Law.Amadou, and many others like him, became part of our everyday life: myself, my family and friends, including the scout group that I led. I am still in touch with them all. Around the same time, we met Ibrahim. When we were first introduced, Ibrahim was a traumatized fourteen-year-old boy who had arrived to Italy through the deadly central Mediterranean crossing. Before uttering a single word, he showed me a piece of paper containing his reception centre’s identification number. He looked surprised when I told him that the only thing I wanted to know was his name, if I was pronouncing and spelling it correctly, and then, how he was getting along? Since then I accompanied Ibrahim throughout his asylum application and through his longer-term integration path. In 2017 Ibrahim turned 18, even though legally I am no longer his guardian, he knows he can rely on me and he does in every critical moment or choice he has to take. This is a very special and rewarding relationship for both of us.The volunteer guardianship practice started by AccoglieRete in Siracusa, Sicily—now more broadly in Italy—goes beyond the representation role of the guardian towards true human care for the person. It is not a contract, but a relationship based on affection, trust and mutual enrichment. Relationships between guardians and unaccompanied minors inevitably becomes long-lasting, far beyond the realm of laws and regulations.Diane, a Nigerian girl who is pregnant with twins after being forced into prostitution following her arrival in Italy, stands in a home run by an Italian NGO in Asti, Piedmont region, Italy.When voluntary guardianship works properly, and the child feels a connection with the guardian—that another human being genuinely cares—it has a powerful effect on reducing abuse, exploitation and harm. There is anecdotal evidence from reception facilities I have visited that children are less willing to take the risky decision of escaping these facilities, exposing them to dangerous risks, when they are assigned a guardian.One important issue to keep in mind is that Italy is perceived as a transit country and children particularly from certain regions (Eritreans, Somalis) have preferred to escape Italian facilities to join their families elsewhere. Even for these minors, guardianship mattered, as they developed trust in their guardians, they waited for family reunion to happen through lawful means.This form of guardianship is not simple. Guardians and foster families don’t have a magic wand to sort out all the challenges that each minor faces: asylum processes, access to health, education, employment. They can and do try to minimize the challenges these children face in extremely difficult circumstances. Volunteer guardians need to be properly trained and continuously supported by professionals in accomplishing their delicate role. Under the Zampa law, capacity building and assistance must be better supported to ensure full implementation of the new law.Let me share a few examples of how guardians supported good outcomes:Blessing found the strength to denounce her “maman” (trafficker) and now lives in a protected house.Eyob from Eritrea could hug his uncle in Sweden through relocation.Ismaila joined a football team and his coach’s family became his foster family.Fares, following vocational training, became the chef of a well-known restaurant.Remon wrote a book.Ahmed was admitted into the United World College and got a scholarship to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.This has been possible due to the commitment of volunteer guardians and their ability to open their network and collaborate across various sectors. Cooperation is not only between authorities, humanitarian agencies and NGOs. It also requires strengthening and convening one-response with local civil society associations, raising widespread awareness, involving private sector organizations (companies, restaurants, sport clubs) and all the different actors willing to foster unaccompanied minors’ protection and inclusion.The voluntary guardianship model aims to demonstrate that a more humane reception and creation of a warm, ‘familiar’ environment, will not only enhance protection but, by engaging locals actively, will foster integration in the host community. This approach is the basis for a more welcoming, multicultural society that sees the child before the migrant.Iolanda Genovese is a migration research officer with the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti. Explore the UNICEF Innocenti research catalogue for new publications. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter and sign up for e-newsletters on any page of the UNICEF Innocenti website.