The Procedure Decree describes the following groups as vulnerable: minors, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, victims of trafficking, disabled, elderly people, persons affected by serious illness or mental disorders; persons for whom has been proved they have experienced torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence; victims of genital mutilation.
Screening of vulnerability
There is no procedure defined in law for the identification of vulnerable persons. However, the Ministry of Health published guidelines for assistance, rehabilitation and treatment of psychological disorders of beneficiaries of international protection victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence. The guidelines highlight the importance of multidisciplinary teams and synergies between local health services and all actors coming into contact with asylum seekers (see Content of Protection: Health Care).
The identification of victims of torture or extreme violence may occur at any stage of the asylum procedure by lawyers, competent authorities, professional staff working in reception centres and specialised NGOs.
The Territorial Commission, on the basis of elements provided by the applicant, may also request a medical examination aimed at ascertaining the effects of persecution or serious harm suffered by the applicants, to be carried out in accordance with the aforementioned guidelines.
The protection of asylum-seeking children has been strengthened with the adoption of LD 18/2014 and L 47/2017. Article 3(5)(e) LD 18/2014 provides the obligation to take into account the level of maturity and the personal development of the child while evaluating his or her credibility, while Article 19(2-bis) expressly recalls and prioritises the principle of the best interests of the child.
Any action necessary to identify the family members of the unaccompanied minor seeking asylum is promptly put in place to ensure the right to family reunification. The Ministry of Interior shall enter into agreements with international organisations, intergovernmental organisations and humanitarian associations, on the basis of the available resources of the National Fund for asylum policies and services, to implement programs directed to find the family members. The researches and the programs directed to find such family members are conducted in the superior interest of the minor and with the duty to ensure the absolute privacy and, therefore, to guarantee the security of the applicant and of his or her relatives.
A member of the Territorial Commission, specifically skilled for that purpose, interviews the minor in the presence of the parents or the legal guardian and the supporting personnel providing specific assistance to the minor. For justified reasons, the Territorial Commission may proceed to interview the minor again in the presence of the supporting personnel, even without the presence of the parent or the legal guardian, if considered necessary in relation of the personal situation of the minor concerned, the degree of maturity and development, in the light of the minor’s best interests.
Survivors of torture
During the personal interview, if the members of the Territorial Commissions suspect that the asylum seeker may be a torture survivor, they may refer him or her to specialised services and suspend the interview.
Since April 2016, MSF started a project in Rome, Lazio in collaboration with ASGI and opened a centre specialising in the rehabilitation of victims of torture. The project is intended to protect but also to assist in the identification of victims of torture who, without proper legal support, are unlikely to be treated as vulnerable people.
The Reception Decree provides that persons for whom has been proved they have experienced torture, rape or other serious forms of violence shall have access to appropriate medical and psychological assistance and care on the basis of Guidelines that will be issued by the Ministry of Health, as mentioned above. To this end, health personnel shall receive appropriate training and must ensure privacy.
Victims of trafficking
Where during the examination procedure, well-founded reasons arise to believe the applicant has been a victim of trafficking, the Territorial Commissions may suspend the procedure and inform the Questura, the Prosecutor’s office or NGOs providing assistance to victims of human trafficking thereof. LD 24/2014, adopted in March 2014 for the transposition of the Anti-Trafficking Directive, foresees that a referral mechanism should be put in place in order to coordinate the two protection mechanisms established for victims of trafficking, namely the protection systems for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, coordinated at a central level, and the protection system for victims of trafficking established at a territorial level.
Giving effect to the legal provision, in 2017 the CNDA and UNHCR published detailed guidelines for the Local Commissions on the identification of victims of trafficking among applicants for international protection and the referral mechanism.
In January 2021, UNHCR Italy issued its Guidelines addressed at Territorial Commissions for the recognition of international protection,  aimed at contributing to the correct identification of victims of trafficking in human beings in the context of the procedures for assessing asylum applications, and at ensuring they are given them assistance and protection.
The Reception Decree clarifies that trafficked asylum seekers shall be channelled into a special programme of social assistance and integration. Recognised victims of trafficking can also be accommodated in second-line SIPROIMI reception facilities but only after they have been recognised international protected (see Special Reception Needs).
Age assessment of unaccompanied children
The Procedure Decree includes a specific provision concerning the identification of unaccompanied children. It foresees that in case of doubt on the age of the asylum seeker, unaccompanied children can be subjected to an age assessment through non-invasive examinations. The age assessment can be triggered by the competent authorities at any stage of the asylum procedure. However, before subjecting a young person to a medical examination, it is mandatory to seek the consent of the concerned unaccompanied child or of his or her legal guardian. The refusal by the applicant to undertake the age assessment has no negative consequences on the examination of the asylum application.
On 6 January 2017, Decree 234/2016 adopted on 10 November 2016 entered into force. The Decree lays down a procedure for determining the age of unaccompanied children victims of trafficking, in implementation of Article 4 LD 24/2014.
L 47/2017 has laid down rules on age assessment which apply to all unaccompanied children. The Law provides that within 120 days of its entry into force, a decree of the President of the Council of Ministers should be adopted regulating the interview with the minor aiming at providing further details on his family and personal history and bringing out any other useful element relevant to his/her protection. However, to date, such a decree has not yet been adopted.
As reported by the Guarantor for the rights of detained persons in his last report to Parliament, four years after the entry into force of L. 47/2017, the procedure established for the age assessment of unaccompanied foreign minors still requires interventions for its full and timely application.
Identification documents and methods of assessing age
The law states that, in the absence of identification documents, and in case of doubts about the person’s age, the Public Prosecutor’s office at the Juvenile Court may order a social / medical examination. This provision may put an end to the critical practice of Questure which directly sent children to hospital facilities without any order by judicial authorities, even when children had valid documents.
The person is informed in a language he or she can understand taking into account his or her degree of literacy and maturity, with the assistance of a cultural mediator, of the fact that an age assessment will be conducted through a social / medical examination. The guardian is also informed of the process.
The examination is conducted under a multidisciplinary approach by appropriately trained professionals, using the least invasive methods possible and respecting the integrity of the person.
Pending the outcome of the procedure, the applicant benefits from the provisions on reception of unaccompanied children. The benefit of the doubt shall be granted if doubts persist following the examination.
The law also states that the final decision on the age assessment, taken by the Juvenile Court, is notified to the child and to the guardian or the person exercising guardianship and must indicate the margin of error.
Currently, however, according to ASGI’s experience, L 47/2017 is not applied uniformly on the national territory. In some areas, the multidisciplinary teams required by law have been established- Consequently, age assessment is still conducted through wrist X-ray, with results not indicating the margin of error.
In 2020, a national protocol on multidisciplinary age assessment was signed by the Conference State region, providing for uniform criteria and inviting to the conclusion of local protocols.
The age assessment is often required even in presence of identity documents and even when there is no reasonable doubt about the minor age. However, the law does not provide the timing for the decision and, pending the results, the minor is often treated and accommodated as an adult, therefore also in situations of promiscuity with adults. Furthermore, the child is often not informed and involved actively in the procedures and he or she is not aware of the reasons for the examinations.
On the other hand, a certainly positive element consists in the decrease of cases in which age assessment is requested by authorities not entitled to carry out such proceedings.
As reported by ASGI, age assessment procedures were not carried out on board the quarantine ships. The Questura of Palermo stated that for “obvious reasons” this could not happen on ships.
The Juvenile Court of Palermo in response to the request for information on the number of minors transiting on the quarantine vessels and the number of corresponding guardians appointed for unaccompanied minors, declared that up to the date of 8 October 2020, such minors were not communicated to the judicial authority “if not at the end of the quarantine” period. As reported by the Court, a MOI circular dated 21 October would have excluded boarding of unaccompanied minors on quarantine ships.
As mentioned, and reported by several organizations belonging to the network Tavolo Minori Migranti, two directives diffused in Friuli Venezia Giulia region on 31 August and 21 December 2020 by the Public Prosecutor at the Juvenile Court of Trieste authorized – contrary to the guarantees enshrined in the Zampa Law (L 47/2017) – the security forces and the border authorities to consider migrants intercepted at the Italy-Slovenia border as adults in case the authorities themselves have no doubts about their adulthood, regardless of their eventual declaration of minor age and the consequent judicial review required by law. This gives a discretionary power to the authorities for the attribution of age to migrants and refugees subjected to border controls, which clearly contrasts with the provisions of the L 47/2017. Through the implementation of this practice the informal readmission procedure to Slovenia was also applied to migrants declaring themselves as minors.
The Guarantor for the rights of detained persons who visited the border premises of the border police of Trieste and Gorizia in December 2020, reported that there were critical issues relating to the procedure for the age assessment of minors, which almost never respects the L. 47/2017 on unaccompanied foreign minors.
According to testimonies collected by ASGI, even if readmission procedures were stopped from February 2021, “de visu” age assessment practices were still carried out as of July 2021 to identify – rectius to decide who could be identified as – minors at the eastern border.
As of September 2021, both in Friuli Venezia Giulia and in Apulia region, ASGI reported on various cases of minors who were asked to prove being underage with legalised birth certificates.
The application of this practice also had effects on the reception of many minors. As reported by Asgi, three foreign citizens who declared themselves minors were placed in the CARA of Gradisca from October 2020 to January 2021, together with adults, after being identified by the Police as adults, without starting any age assessment procedure. In the identification reports, where it is expressly mentioned the minor age declared by the migrants, the Police, referring to the aforementioned directives, assign a conventional date of birth on the basis of which the same is of an adult. In mid-January 2021, after a legal intervention with the support of ASGI, the three minors were transferred to facilities for unaccompanied minors.
During a visit to the First Aid and Reception Centre (Centro di primo soccorso et di accoglienza, CPSA) of Roma Capitale, a first reception centre for children in Rome, Lazio, carried out in December 2017, the Children’s Ombudsman found that, after a first interview, the children were subjected to age assessment through medical examination in all cases where they had no identification document certifying their age, and then submitted to the photo-dactyloscopy surveys at the offices of the Scientific Police.
In their final report of the programme jointly implemented, UNHCR and the Children’s Ombudsman recommended to the authorities involved to proceed with the age assessment only when there is a well-founded doubt about the minor age, based on an individual and objective evaluation.
In its report published in March 2019, the Children’s Ombudsman pointed out that, according to the interviewed judges, the frequency of procedures for age assessment is still very low.
Challenging age assessment
According to L 47/2017, the age assessment decision can be appealed, and any administrative or criminal procedure is suspended until the decision on the appeal. Before this law, in the absence of a specific provision, children were often prevented from challenging the outcome of age assessments.
The ECtHR communicated a case against Italy on 14 February 2017 concerning alleged violations of Articles 3 and 8 ECHR, stemming from the absence of procedural guarantees in the age assessment procedure.
In 2020, in at least 4 cases, the Juvenile Court of Trieste ordered to activate the procedure for the age assessment of the persons involved. The Court decided this on an appeal lodged by minors who had not been considered as such, who were placed in adult facilities and who were not moved away from there even if the bodies managing their accommodation in adult CAS asked for their urgent transfer The Court recognized the illegitimacy of the practice and sent the procedural documents to the local Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office.
 Article 2(1)(h-bis) Procedure Decree.
 Article 8(3-bis) Qualification Decree.
 Article 19(7) Reception Decree.
 Article 13(3) Procedure Decree.
 Article 17(8) Reception Decree.
 Article 32(3-bis) Procedure Decree.
 Article 13 L 228/2003; Article 18 TUI.
 UNHCR Guidelines “L’identificazione delle vittime di tratta tra i richiedenti protezione internazionale e procedure di referral” available at https://bit.ly/3KwhQoD
 Article 17(2) Reception Decree in conjunction with Article 18(3-bis) LD 286/1998 and LD 24/2014.
 Article 19(2) Procedure Decree.
 Article 19-bis Reception Decree, inserted by Article 5 L 47/2017.
 Article 5 L 47/2017.
 Article 19-bis(3) Reception Decree.
 Article 19-bis(4) Reception Decree.
 Elena Rozzi, ‘L’Italia, un modello per la protezione dei minori stranieri non accompagnati a livello europeo?, in Il diritto d’asilo’, Fondazione Migrantes, February 2018.
 Article 19-bis(5) Reception Decree.
 Article 19-bis(6) Reception Decree.
 Article 19-bis(8) Reception Decree.
 Article 19-bis(7) Reception Decree.
 ASGI, Report: Il “modello emergenziale” delle navi quarantena: gli approfondimenti, le analisi, i dati e le principali criticità, April 2021, Available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3f3HMKA.
 Information collected by ASGI within the Inlimine project, available at: https://bit.ly/3c66k4W.
 The “Tavolo Minori Migranti” is a un network coordinated by Save the Children, to which belong also AiBi, Amnesty International, Asgi, Caritas Italiana, Centro Astalli, CeSpi, CIR, CNCA, Defence for Children, Emergency, Intersos, Oxfam, Salesiani per il Sociale, SOS Villaggi dei bambini and Terre des Hommes. It’s born after the approval of L. 47/2017 aiming at monitoring its full implementation regarding the effective defence of minors.
 See Ansa, Migranti: 12 associazioni contestano Procura Minori Trieste, 10 February 2021, available at https://bit.ly/3uBXbIw; see also ASGI, “Accertamento dell’età, due direttive della Procura della Repubblica per i minori di Trieste in contrasto con la legge”, available at: https://bit.ly/3hha0nL, 10 February 2021.
 Guarantor for the rights of detained persons, report of 18 December 2020, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3tCXNwr.
 Children’s Ombudsman and UNHCR, Minori stranieri non accompagnati: una valutazione partecipata dei bisogni – Relazione sulle visite nei centri, May 2018, available in Italiian at: http://bit.ly/2TExUPE, 19.
 UNHCR and the Children’s Ombudsman, report, May 2019.
 Article 19-bis(10) Reception Decree.
 ECtHR, Darboe and Camara v. Italy, Application No 5797/17, Communicated 14 February 2017.