The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

EASO To have central role in Malta’s pilot project evaluation

Malta Independent Sunday, 11 March 2012, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

Together with the European Commission, the European Asylum Support office (EASO), based in Malta, will have a central role in the evaluation of the Eurema pilot project that was specific for the resettlement of migrants from Malta into other European countries, The Malta Independent on Sunday has learnt.

The office will also be setting up a system of analysis to monitor migration flows and will be assessing the preparedness of EU countries to deal with migration flows. This will help prevent emergency situations such as those in Greece, following migration flows from Libya.

These lines of action were included in the conclusions of the Justice and Home Affairs Council Meeting, held in Brussels on Thursday. The subject was a Common Framework for genuine and practical solidarity towards member states facing particular pressures on their asylum systems, including through mixed migration flows.

EASO Executive Director Robert Visser said in an interview that the evaluation will take place this year and on its basis, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, will propose a way forward.

Giving his observations prior to the evaluation, Dr Visser said the project was voluntary both in the way member states decided to participate, and also in the methodology they used.

Although this was an EU-driven project, some member states were resettling migrants as per bilateral agreements, rather than through the established mechanism – something he did not have an answer for but which would be studied.

He believes the evaluation will determine whether the system should remain temporary or become permanent, voluntary or not. However, the final decision would be taken by member states in Council. This had been a temporary project but such projects are interesting because they allow experts to see the real situation. By definition, temporary projects are a success because they give evidence – facts on which to base the next steps.

The council meeting was very important and had two central subjects: The migration situation in Greece, in which the EASO has been active and gave operational support from the beginning, and the Common Framework on Solidarity.

Greece is in big need of support, and although the government is committed to improve its system, it has the financial crisis to cope with. Dr Visser’s main concern is that it needs more people as this is the only way to build a strong service but this is in conflict with the financial situation. It is therefore a political issue of real concern.

The other important development gave the EASO the new task of setting up a system of analysis to monitor migration flows to the EU and to assess the situations of member states to identify what assistance they would need to deal with migration and asylum. The motivation is to avoid having a similar situation to that of Greece, which could have been prevented with a monitor system, in the future.

Established in Malta last year, the EASO is an instrument of EU solidarity. There exist a fair number of joint legal frameworks regarding migration and the office works on harmonising things. The agency is therefore to stimulate and coordinate support and common implementation of programmes on the floor.

It works within the Common Asylum Framework System and coordinates work while giving expertise to member states.

“It should not matter if a person applies for asylum in Malta, Spain or Italy – the office works to homogenise national practises,” Dr Visser said.

When Malta made the bid to host the office, migration was very much on the agenda as a result of the situation in the Mediterranean and in Malta. Although the situation has quietened, Dr Visser still believes it is good for Malta to host the office both in economic and practical terms. On the ground cooperation on migration in all 27 EU countries is organised from Malta.

Migration is a permanent and very dynamic subject – every EU member is confronted with it and must cope with it at some moment in time. It does not make sense for the office to be moved from Malta if some other country is facing a crisis, as the office deploys experts on the ground to deal with emergent situations.

When it comes to migration, it is not always possible to predict developments. Some months ago, Luxembourg asked the EASO for support because of the influx of migrants from the east. Support was organised within days.

At the moment, Greece remains the main migration flashpoint, and its structure should be improved. While Dr Visser cannot forecast what happens in the next few months, as no one predicted the results of the Libya upheaval or the situation in Luxembourg, he believes the instability in Somalia and the Horn of Africa can suddenly produce migration flows.

The EASO must be prepared both for the expected and even the unforeseen circumstances.

Migration patterns and flows shift, and the nationalities of migrants change. Over the last few years for instance, the Canary Islands were the first to start seeing an influx of migrants and eventually, Spain, Italy, Lampedusa, Malta and the Turkish-Greek border. Some flows go even further north and recently there has been a change in the influx from the Balkans and eastern countries that are not EU members. This created the emergency situation in Luxembourg.

Consequently, the early warning system is of particular importance. The first trials on data provided by member states are in hand and Dr Visser hopes to have the system in place by summer.

Meanwhile, the office is still building up its staff levels. Its 40-staff complement should be brought up to 60 by the end of the year and should continue to grow to 80 by next year. This is the basic necessary staff level necessary to cope with the workflow.

Additional to its basic staff complement, EASO draws on a big pool of experts (over 400) from the member states.

Commenting on the negative situation in Syria, which has been deteriorating for a year and which might descend into civil war, Dr Visser said Europe is already experiencing a higher influx of migrants from the country.

The latest figures he has show an increased number of applicants seeking asylum in both Malta and Cyprus. From a migration perspective, this is a signal that the situation in the country is serious.

Nonetheless, it is impossible to say whether this will increase or not. As a matter of fact, Dr Visser pointed out that after the fall of Tripoli, a migration exodus was expected but has not yet happened.

“But we must be prepared because what’s happening in Syria is quite dramatic,” Dr Visser said.

In the near future, the EASO will continue providing support in emergency situations and focus on preparedness to bring down the number of emergencies. Training is the best investment in the common practice system so more case workers will receive training according to the European curriculum.

The office is also beefing up its data on the migrants’ countries of origin because individual decisions on whether people can stay in Europe or be repatriated are based on this. The idea is to have the first report on Afghanistan completed by July.

Other efforts will be focused on the early warning system and on external dimensions because although migration flows might change, short-term information regarding North African countries must be complete.

It will also continue working on Greece and any emergency that might result, as well as the Malta-specific Eurema project or any possible subsequent ones.

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