Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 03/06/21


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, in 2018, 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 rendered the effective identification and protection of these categories of people even more precarious.

The reform provided to the accommodation system by Decree Law 130/2020 extends the protection afforded to asylum seekers in first reception facilities by extending the type of services to be provided. This largely theoretical as the new tender specifications guarantee them only to a minimum extent, thereby not having any positive impact on the situation that arose after the cancellation of these services following the Decree Law 113/2018.

Decree Law 113/2018, implemented by L 132/2018, repealed the provision that envisaged the activation of special reception services in the SPRAR/SIPROIMI facilities for vulnerable people.[3]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 SAI system before they are granted of a title of protection 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]

However, the places intended for the reception of vulnerable people are insufficient: as Linkiesta reconstructs in a December 2020 report, in Italy, there are 734 places specialized in accommodation of vulnerable refugees, compared to the 2,000 who, according to the Ministry of the Interior, have been officially diagnosed with a disease. Only 2.3% of these people with severe mental illness are adequately assisted. [5]

In January 2021, SAI reported that there were only 623 places for people with mental distress and disabilities in SAI projects. In 8 regions (Abruzzo, Basilicata, Campania, Liguria, Molise, Sardinia, Trentino Alto Adige, Valle d’Aosta and Veneto) there is not even a dedicated place.[6]

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.[7] Where possible, adult vulnerable people are placed together with other adult family members already present in the reception centres.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] 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. [12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

At the end of 2020, the total number of unaccompanied children accommodated in Italy was 7,080. Of those, 96.2% were accommodated in reception facilities while 3.8 % were accommodated in private housing (with families). The majority of unaccompanied children were accommodated in Sicily (18.3%), followed by Lombardy (13.3%), Emilia-Romagna (9.9 %), Lazio (8.8%), Piedmont (6.3%), Campania (6.0%), Tuscany (6.0%), Apulia (5.8%), Friuli-Venezia Giulia (4.6%), Tuscany, (7.6%) Veneto (4.9%), Piedmont (4.3%), Apulia (3.7%) and Liguria (3.4%).[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] On 17 December 2020 the Ministry of the Interior – Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration published a decree extending 6 AMIF projects until 31 December 2021.[19] On 22 December 2020, the MoI informed that the AMIF fund had authorised the funding of 21 million euros to MoI to strengthen the implementation by local authorities of projects for the reception of unaccompanied minors in the SIPROIMI (SAI) network. The maximum cost of the projects is € 68,40 per day per person.[20]

In application of the anti Covid 19 regulations, the unaccompanied minors, disembarked or just arrived by land borders, were placed in ad hoc structures for quarantine. The procedures for placing unaccompanied minors in quarantine have been provided for by the various regional ordinances in compliance with the national legislation; in some areas regions have used hotels, in other cases rooms have been organized within the reception system. As reported by the Ministry of Labour, in cases where hotels were used, the minors, at the end of the quarantine, were transferred to government reception facilities. When the quarantine was carried out in second-level structures, the minors continued their reception in the same facility, after the period of fiduciary isolation.

As evidenced by ASGI many minors had to spend the quarantine on ships, with serious consequences for access to treatment and psychophysical health of minors. At the beginning of October, Abou Diakite, aged 15, died following an emergency hospitalization, which occurred only after several days of isolation on the GNV Allegra ship. Just before, on September 15, Abdallah Said, aged 17, died of tuberculous encephalitis at Catania Hospital, where he had been transferred only after a period of quarantine on the ship GNV Azzurra.

Dedicated facilities for unaccompanied children

At the end of 2020, there were 981 reception facilities hosting unaccompanied children, mainly boys (95.2%) aged 16 or 17 (72.7%).[21]

Out of the 6,814 accommodated unaccompanied children, 5,549 were in second-line reception facilities (78.4%), which include SIPROIMI-SAI facilities, second-line accommodation facilities funded by AMIF and all second-level structures authorised at regional or municipal level. Another 1,265 (17.8%) were in first reception centres.[22]


According to the law, the accommodation of unaccompanied children shall primarily take place in SAI (former SIPROIMI /SPRAR) facilities.[23] All unaccompanied children, including those seeking asylum, have access to SAI.

Children reaching adulthood in SAI centres can remain there until a final decision on their asylum application.[24]  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 Siproimi Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Interior with decree of 18 November 2019 regulated the matter in the same way.[25] DL 130/2020 finally authorised the access to SAI for unaccompanied minors who became adults obtaining an administrative extension of their placement.[26]

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.[27]

As of January 2021, 4,469 places were financed for unaccompanied children in 145 SAI/SIPROIMI projects, including 206 places in 11 AMIF-funded projects.[28] The number of places dedicated to unaccompanied children still falls short of current needs, i.e. 6,814 unaccompanied children present in the reception system.[29]

First reception centres and CAS for unaccompanied children

In case of lack of available places in the SAI/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.[30]

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.[31]

The Ministry of Interior Decree issued on 1 September 2016 has identified the structural requirements and the services ensured in such centres.[32] 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.[33]

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.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36] 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.[37]

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.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40]

At the end of 2020, first reception centres accommodated 1,265 unaccompanied children in 8 projects. 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.

Of the 8 projects operational in Italy, 7 were in Sicily and 1 in Molise.

Specifically as regards AMIF-funded first reception centres, from 23 August 2016 to 31 December 2020, the total number of unaccompanied children hosted was 8,115. 3,568 voluntarily left accommodation, while 4,099 have been transferred 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 2020, there were 313 unaccompanied children present in these facilities.[41]

In 2019, 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.[42]

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.[43]

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.[44]

Accommodation with adults and destitution

Unaccompanied children cannot be held or detained in governmental reception centres for adults and CPR.[45] 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.[46] Throughout 2017, more appeals were presented to the ECtHR to protect unaccompanied children placed in adult reception centres in Italy, including Rome, Lazio,[47] and Como, Lombardy.[48]

In 2020, the Public Prosecutor at the Juvenile Court of Trieste sent the implementation of two directives to authorities in Friuli Venezia Giulia region. They authorized the authorities to no longer carry out the age assessment procedure for those who declare as minors, but are believed to be adults. This had a negative effect on the accommodation of many minors (see age assessment and arrival in the territory, Slovenian border).

As reported by ASGI, three foreign citizens who declared themselves as minors were placed in the CARA of Gradisca from October 2020 to January 2021, in promiscuity with adults, after being identified by the Police as adults, without starting any age assessment procedure. In mid-January 2021, after a legal intervention with the support of ASGI, the three minors were transferred to facilities for unaccompanied minors.

In at least 4 cases were minors were not considered as such and placed in adult facilities, the Juvenile Court of Trieste, recognized the illegitimacy of the practice and sent the procedural documents to the local Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office ordering to activate the procedure for the age assessment of the persons involved.

ASGI also recorded cases where minors were detained in CPRs as adults (see detention).



[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] See Linkiesta, La questione irrisolta dei migranti con disturbi mentali , 23 December 2020, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3eGbVR4; see also Migranti Torino, “La salute mentale nei rifugiati prima, durante e dopo la migrazione”,  15 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3w4iinb

[6]  SAI, I numeri del SAI, January 2021, available at: https://www.retesai.it/i-numeri-dello-sprar/

[7]  Article 9(3) PD 21/2015.

[8]  Article 17(5) Reception Decree.

[9] Article 17(7) Reception Decree.

[10] Article 10(1) Reception Decree.

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

[12] 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.

[13] Article 18(1) Reception Decree.

[14] Article 18(2) Reception Decree.

[15]Ministry of Labour, Monitoring report on Unaccompanied children, 31 December 2020, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3ycR0g8

[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]  MOI, available at: https://bit.ly/3fg5x2e

[20] See: https://bit.ly/3oeJzRb

[21] Ministry of Labour, monitoring report. 31 December 2020, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3uLZI2R

[22]  Ibid, 35.

[23] Article 19(2) Reception Decree.

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

[25] Article 38 Moi Decree 18 November 2019.

[26] DL 130/2020,Article 4 (3) b), amending Article 1 sexies (1 bis) DL 416/1989. In 2020 ASGI had underlined that, although the Ministry of Interior had not clarified it, It was not 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, had 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.

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

[28] SAI, I numeri del SAI, January 2021, available in Italian at: https://www.retesai.it/i-numeri-dello-sprar/; the number of AMIF projects is available in the Ministry of Labour monitoring report, 31 December 2020.

[29] Data as of 31 December 2020, Ministry of Labour report available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3y9tlND

[30] Article 19(1) Reception Decree.

[31]  Ibid.

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

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

[34] 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.

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

[36] Article 19(3) Reception Decree.

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

[38]  Article 19(1) Reception Decree.

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

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

[41]  Ministry of Labour, Monitoring report I minori stranieri non accompagnati, 31 December 2020, 37.

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

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

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

[45]  Article 19(4) Reception Decree.

[46] 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.

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

[48] 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