Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 30/11/20


Article 17(1) of the Reception Decree provides that reception is provided taking into account the special needs of the asylum seekers, in particular those of vulnerable persons such as children, unaccompanied children, disabled persons, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, victims of trafficking and genital mutilation, as well as persons affected by serious illness or mental disorders (see Identification).

There are no legal provisions on how, when and by whom this assessment should be carried out. The Reception Decree provides that asylum applicants undergo a health check since they enter the first reception centres and in temporary reception structures to assess their health condition and special reception needs.[1] The Decree provides, in theory, that special services addressed to vulnerable people with special needs shall be ensured in first reception centres.[2] However, the reduction of funding and services provided in first reception centres under the 20 November 2018 tender specifications scheme (capitolato) of the Ministry of Interior and the exclusion of psychologists’ services from eligible costs will render the effective identification and protection of these categories of people even more precarious (see Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions).

Decree Law 113/2018, implemented by L 132/2018, has repealed the provision that envisaged the activation of special reception services in the SPRAR/SIPROIMI facilities for vulnerable people.[3]

Currently, in case vulnerable people reach to access the Siproimi system after the grant of a title of protection that allows the access) they could enjoy some additional services allowed by the Decree 18 November 2019 for disabled persons and persons affected by serious illness or mental disorders.[4]

The law clarifies the need to set up specific spaces within governmental first reception centres where services related to the information, legal counselling, psychological support, and receiving visitors are ensured.[5] Where possible, adult vulnerable people are placed together with other adult family members already present in the reception centres.[6] The manager of reception centres shall inform the Prefecture on the presence of vulnerable applicants for the possible activation of procedural safeguards allowing the presence of supporting personnel during the personal interview.[7]


Reception of families and children


The Reception Decree specifies that asylum seekers are accommodated in facilities which ensure the protection of family unity comprising of spouses and first-degree relatives.[8] The management body of the reception centres shall respect the family unity principle. Therefore they cannot separate children from parents who live in the same wing of the facility. In practice, it may happen that a father is accommodated in a wing for single men and his wife and children in the wing for women. In general, dedicated wings are designed for single parents with children. It may also happen that the parents are divided and placed in different centres, and usually the children are accommodated with the mother.

It may happen in first reception centres that families are divided in case the accommodation conditions are deemed not adequate and suitable for children. In these situations mothers and children are hosted in a facility, and men in another.

On 3 April 2019, the Court of Cassation clarified that minors are considered accompanied only when they can be considered assisted by a present parent. In any case of family members other than parents the Juvenile Court has to activate the guardianship.[9] Following this decision, Juvenile Courts gave indications to authorities not to directly accommodate minors with relatives different other than parents.

Following the 2018 reform of the reception system, families accommodated in first reception centres or CAS could be subsequently transferred to a SIPROIMI facility only when at least one member of the family has been granted international protection or another status that allows access to second-line reception (see Content of Protection: Housing). However, the transfer depends on factors such as the composition of the family, its vulnerability and/or health problems and the availability of places in the SIPROIMI system.

In May 2019, many small CAS closed due funding cuts made by the calls modulated on the new tender specifications schemes. Following these closures more than 300 people were transferred to Cavarzerani centre. Among them also many families with even very young children. [10]

Based on NGOs’ experience, no specific or standardised mechanisms are put in place to prevent gender-based violence in reception centres. As a general rule, permanent law enforcement personnel is present outside governmental centres with the task of preventing problems and maintaining public order. Generally speaking, the management body of governmental centres divides each family from the others hosted in the centre. Women and men are always separated.


Reception of unaccompanied children


The Reception Decree states that the best interests of the child have priority in the application of reception measures, in order to ensure living conditions suitable for a child with regard to protection, well-being and development, including social development, in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[11]

In order to evaluate the best interests of the child, the child shall be heard, taking into account his or her age, the extent of his or her maturity and personal development, also for the purpose of understanding his or her past experiences and to assess the risk of being a victim of trafficking, and the possibility of family reunion pursuant to Article 8(2) of the Dublin Regulation as long as it corresponds to the best interests.[12]

At the end of 2019, the total number of unaccompanied children accommodated in Italy was 6.054. Of those, 94.5% were accommodated in reception facilities while 5.4% were accommodated in private housing (with families).[13] The majority of unaccompanied children were accommodated in Sicily (19%), followed by Lombardy (13.6%), Friuli-Venezia Giulia (11%), Emilia-Romagna (10%), Tuscany, (7.6%) Lazio (7.1%), Veneto (4.9%), Piedmont (4.3%), Apulia (3.7%) and Liguria (3.4%).[14]

5,383 unaccompanied children absconded from accommodation. Of those, 16.4% were Tunisians, 14.7% Afghans and 10.1% Eritreans.[15]

In the final report drawn up following the visits carried out jointly between 2017 and 2018, the Children's Ombudsman and UNHCR highlighted how, despite the fact that the number of unaccompanied minors has decreased, a high number of them are accommodated in a limited number of regions, a circumstance that does not facilitate the minors social paths.[16]

Since 2015, the management of the Fund for the reception of unaccompanied minors has been transferred from the Ministry of Labour to the Ministry of Interior.[17] Through the Fund, the Ministry provides, with his own decree, after hearing the Unified Conference, to cover the costs incurred by local authorities for the reception of unaccompanied foreign minors, within the limits of the resources allocated. According to the 2019 budget law, the Fund for the reception of minors has approximately 150 million euros for 2019 and 170 million for 2020 and 2021.

The interventions in favour of unaccompanied foreign minors are also funded by resources from the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) 2014-2020.[18]

Dedicated facilities for unaccompanied children

At the end of 2019, there were 1,060 reception facilities hosting unaccompanied children, mainly boys aged 16 or 17.[19]

Out of the 6,054 accommodated unaccompanied children, 5,150 were in second-line reception facilities (85%) which include SIPROIMI facilities, second-line accommodation facilities funded by AMIF and all second-level structures authorised at regional or municipal level. Another 572 were in first reception centres.[20]


According to the law, the accommodation of unaccompanied children shall primarily take place in SIPROIMI (former SPRAR) facilities.[21] All unaccompanied children, including those seeking asylum, have access to SIPROIMI.

Children reaching adulthood in SIPROIMI centres can remain there until a final decision on their asylum application.[22] Circulars issued by the Ministry of Interior of 27 December 2018 and 3 January 2019 specified that in case the unaccompanied child is granted international protection, he or she can stay in SIPROIMI for another 6 months. The same Circulars specified that unaccompanied children who obtained an administrative extension of their placement can remain in second-line reception for the entire duration of the extension.

The new Siproimi Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Interior with decree of 18 November 2019 regulates the matter in the same way.[23]

According to ASGI, SIPROIMI should also accommodate unaccompanied minors asylum seekers who have become adults and who did not have access to second-line reception due to lack of places. [24]

Siproimi Guidelines adopted by MoI Decree of 18 November 2019 provided additional specific activities and services in favour of unaccompanied minors and in particular the activation of services aimed at promoting family foster care; aimed at supporting the paths of autonomy, also by promoting forms of support for housing autonomy in the transition to adulthood; encouraging the connection with the voluntary tutors. It also provides specialized services dedicated to minors with particular fragility.[25]

As of January 2020, 4,003 places were financed for unaccompanied children in 155 SPRAR/SIPROIMI projects, including 13 AMIF-funded projects.[26] The number of places dedicated to unaccompanied children still falls short of current needs, i.e. 6,054 unaccompanied children present in the reception system.[27]

First reception centres and CAS for unaccompanied children

In case of lack of available places in the SIPROIMI system and for immediate relief and protection purposes, unaccompanied children may be accommodated in governmental first reception facilities. The first reception facilities are funded by AMIF, implemented by the Ministry of Interior in agreement with the local authority on whose territory the structure is located, and managed by the Ministry of Interior also in agreement with the local authorities.[28]

Where implemented, stay in first reception centres cannot exceed 30 days and must last for the strictly necessary time for identification, which must be completed within 10 days. This serves to identify and assess the age of the child and to receive any information on the rights recognised to the child and on the modalities of exercise of such rights, including the right to apply for international protection. Throughout the time in which the child is accommodated in the first reception centre, one or more meetings with an age development psychologist are provided, where necessary, in presence of a cultural mediator, in order to understand the personal condition of the child, the reasons and circumstances of departure from his or her home country and his or her travel, as well as his or her future expectations.[29]

The Ministry of Interior Decree issued on 1 September 2016 has identified the structural requirements and the services ensured in such centres.[30] The Decree states that these centres are located in easily accessible places in order to ensure access to services and social life of the territory and that each structure can accommodate up to a maximum of 30 children.[31]

During 2017 and 2018, the Children’s Ombudsman and UNHCR jointly implemented a programme of visits to emergency, first and second-line reception centres for unaccompanied children.[32] The visits have made it possible to ascertain that the permanence of minors in first reception centres is extended well beyond the deadline of 30 days, and continues in most cases up to the actual completion of age, involving the lack of access to second reception projects. In the first accommodation and identification centre of Rome -CPSA – It has been found that the actual average time of stay it is about 10 days, during which children undergoing identification procedures are forbidden from leaving the centres. The visits to some first reception centres found limited conditions possibility of movement by minors. According to the rules in force in these centres, in order to protect the potential victims of trafficking, minors could not own cell phones and exit only in the presence of operators.

As reported by the Children’s Ombudsman, the frequent stay in these first reception centres well beyond the prescribed 30 days often creates feelings of despondency and abandonment among children. This can play an important role in absconding from centres.[33]

If even first reception centres are saturated, reception must be temporarily assured by the public authority of the Municipality where the child is located, without prejudice to the possibility of transfer to another municipality in accordance with the best interests of the child.[34] According to Article 19(3-bis) of the Reception Decree, in case of mass arrivals of unaccompanied children and unavailability of the dedicated reception centres, the use of CAS to accommodate children is permitted.[35]

Similar to the temporary shelters for adults (see Types of Accommodation), these CAS are implemented by Prefectures. The law states that each structure may have a maximum capacity of 50 places and may ensure the same services as governmental first reception centres dedicated to children.[36] Also in this case, no time limit is actually provided for the staying in these centres; according to the law, accommodation is limited to the time “strictly necessary” until the transfer to adequate structures.[37] In any event, these temporary centres cannot host children under the age of 14. The accommodation of children has to be communicated by the manager of the temporary structure to the municipality where the structure is located, for the coordination with the services of the territory.[38]

At the end of 2019, first reception centres accommodated 572 unaccompanied children. These centres include government centres financed by AMIF, CAS activated by the Prefects; first reception facilities authorised by the municipalities or regions; and emergency and provisional centres.

Specifically as regards AMIF-funded first reception centres, from 23 August 2016 to 31 December 2019, the total number of unaccompanied children hosted was 6,598. By the end of 2019, 8 AMIF funded projects were operational on the national territory and, out of these, 7 were operational in Sicily and 1 in Molise for 200 total places. Out of those, 1,326 minors made an application for international protection (only 90 more than 2018), 2,950 voluntarily left accommodation, while 3,566 have been transferred, of whom 3,482 to second-line reception facilities belonging to the SPRAR/SIPROIMI network or in second-line reception facilities financed with AMIF funds.

At the end of 2019, there were 76 unaccompanied children present in these facilities.[39]

The Children’s Ombudsman has critically highlighted the lack of sufficient numbers of centres for unaccompanied children in the border areas, resulting in a lack of adequate response to the needs of unaccompanied children in transit at the northern borders.[40]

The reception of unaccompanied children not transferred to the governmental centres or SIPROIMI facilities remains under the responsibility of the city of arrival. The amended Reception Decree states that the interested municipalities should not have any expenses in charge.[41]

The Ministry of Interior has developed guidelines for the accommodation of unaccompanied minors in first reception centres, with practical information on the procedures to be followed for daily work.[42]


Accommodation with adults and destitution


Unaccompanied children cannot be held or detained in governmental reception centres for adults and CPR.[43] However, throughout 2017 and 2018, both due to the problems related to age assessment (see Identification) and to the unavailability of places in dedicated shelters, there have been reported cases of children accommodated in adults’ reception centres.[44]

Throughout 2017, more appeals were presented to the ECtHR to protect unaccompanied children placed in adult reception centres in Italy, including Rome, Lazio,[45] and Como, Lombardy.[46]


[1] Articles 9(4) and 11(1) Reception Decree.

[2] Article 17(3) Reception Decree.

[3] Article 17(4) Reception Decree has been repealed by Article 12 Decree Law 113/2018 and L 132/2018.

[4] Article 34 Moi Decree 18 November 2019

[5] Article 9(3) PD 21/2015.

[6] Article 17(5) Reception Decree.

[7] Article 17(7) Reception Decree.

[8] Article 10(1) Reception Decree.

[9]  Court of Cassation, 3 April 2019, decision 9199/2019

[10] Repubblica, Friuli, caos sull'accoglienza e i richiedenti asilo tornano in caserma. Le associazioni: "È una deportazione, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/xyO8uH0.

[11] Article 18(1) Reception Decree.

[12] Article 18(2) Reception Decree.

[13]Ministry of Labour, half yearly Monitoring report on Unaccompanied children, 31 December 2019, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/jyO8oq2.

[14] Ministry of Labour, I minori stranieri non accompagnati, 31 December 2019, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/2yO8oI4.

[15]  Ibid, 3.

[16] Children’s Ombudsman and UNHCR report, May 2019, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/SyO8sdV.

[17] 2015 Stability Law (Law 190/2014, Article 1 (181-182)

[18] Chamber of Deputies, Study Service, 19 March 2020, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/myO8ddD.

[19]  Ministry of Labour, monitoring report. 31 December 2019, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/ZyO8dBu.

[20] Ibid, 26.

[21] Article 19(2) Reception Decree.

[22]  Article 12(5-bis) Decree Law 113/2018, as amended by L 132/2018.

[23] Artcle 38 Moi Decree 18 November 2019.

[24]According to ASGI, although the Ministry of Interior does not clarify it, It would not be justified a different treatment of unaccompanied children who obtained an administrative extension of their placement but who, due to the unavailability of places in SIPROIMI, have not been included within this system during the minor age, see ASGI, Emergenza covid-19 e percorsi dei minori non accompagnati dopo i 18 anni, 13 March 2020, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/NyO8h6T.

[25] MoI Decree, 18 November 2019, Article 35, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/hyO8jXD.

[26] SIPROIMI, I numeri dello Sprar/Siproimi, January 2020, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/oyO8k8E.

[27] Data as of 31 December 2019, Ministry of Labour monthly report available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/NyO8l8p.

[28] Article 19(1) Reception Decree.

[29] Ibid.

[30]Ministry of Interior Decree of 1 September 2016 on the establishment of first reception centres dedicated to unaccompanied minors.

[31] Article 3 Ministry of Interior Decree of 1 September 2016.

[32] Children’s Ombudsman and UNHCR, L'ascolto e la partecipazione dei minori stranieri non accompagnati in Italia, Rapporto finale attività di partecipazione 2017-2018, May 2019, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/LyO8zDa.

[33] Children’s Ombudman, I movimenti dei minori stranieri non accompagnati alle frontiere settentrionali, 29 March 2019, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/2v2oNt6.

[34] Article 19(3) Reception Decree.

[35]Article 19(3-bis) Reception Decree, citing Article 11.

[36]  Article 19(1) Reception Decree.

[37] Article 19(3-bis) Reception Decree, citing Article 19(2)-(3).

[38] Article 19(3-bis) Reception Decree.

[39] Ministry of Labour, Monitoring report I minori stranieri non accompagnati, 31 December 2019, 28.

[40] Children’s Ombudsman, I movimenti dei minori stranieri non accompagnati alle frontiere settentrionali, 29 March 2019.

[41] Article 19(3) Reception Decree, as amended by Article 12 Decree Law 113/2018 and L 132/2018.

[42]  MoI  Guidelines available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/2yO8nAN.

[43] Article 19(4) Reception Decree.

[44] Children’s Ombudman and UNHCR, L'ascolto e la partecipazione dei minori stranieri non accompagnati in Italia, Rapporto finale attività di partecipazione 2017-2018, May 2019, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/vyO8mh2.

[45] ECtHR, Bacary v. Italy, Application No 36986/17, Communicated on 5 July 2017.

[46] ECtHR, M.A. v. Italy, Application No 70583/17, Communicated on 3 October 2017.


Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation