They arrive, alone and penniless, seeking refuge from the world’s most impoverished, violent countries. And they live, hidden in plain sight, on the streets, where their inability to access critical services -- such as safe shelter, healthcare, access to food, job placement and educational opportunities -- means they face an almost-zero chance of improving their circumstances. Today, Salesian missionaries in Italy are working to address this growing challenge.
Across the country, as many as 5,000 of these “invisible migrants” -- unaccompanied foreign minors isolated by language, culture and a lack of understanding of their rights -- congregate in the central train stations, hoping that their luck will change. Through a new project called “I Care About You,” Salesian missionaries aim to assist them through comprehensive support and vocational training programs that offer pathways to social inclusion and meaningful employment.
“This work is more important now than ever,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “While official numbers are difficult to verify, it’s clear that the number of unaccompanied foreign minors living on the streets of Italy has reached crisis levels. Without help from the Salesians, these youth literally fall through the cracks -- their dreams of escaping the poverty and hopelessness of their home countries are crushed.”
Since February, “I Care About You” outreach teams of Salesian missionaries accompanied by educators, psychologists, lawyers and other volunteers have been fanning out into neighborhoods in and around Catania, Naples and Turin, where they work to build relationships of understanding, respect and trust among the young people they encounter.
“Behind every statistic is an actual person -- one who has been uprooted, isolated and exposed to crime, abuse, violence and poverty,” says Father Giovanni d’Andrea, president of the Salesians for Social Work Federation -- a collection of more than 70 Salesian-run organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for marginalized youth in Italy. By treating them with dignity and compassion, “we recognize them as human; they are then much more likely to accept our protection and support,” adds Fr. Giovanni.
At the newly opened center called Najma (Arabic for “star”) in Catania, migrant youth can wash up, eat a hot meal, rest and connect with their peers through recreational and social activities. Health care providers offer assistance for those who struggle with substance abuse and other physical or mental issues. Legal advisors help navigate the confusing world of immigration documentation, work visas and other official paperwork. At the same time, they can enroll in Italian-language classes and participate in workforce training programs.
Ultimately, Fr. Giovanni explains, the goal is to empower migrant youth with the training, skills and confidence they need to become fully integrated and contributing members of society.
“The road ahead of them is long,” he says, “but we help guide them on a new path -- one that leads them away from the streets and toward the full, productive lives they’ve dreamt of living.”
Our mission helps migrant youth escape poverty and begin a new life. What’s your mission?