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23rd Feb 2020

Interview

EU asylum chief: The 'future' arrived in 2015

The European Asylum Support Office (Easo) in Malta is seeking to expand operations and staff as it gears up for the launch of its new mandate.

Jose Carreira, the agency's executive director, told EUobserver in an interview on Friday (17 November) that he hopes to have some 500 staff on payroll and another 500 in a pool of experts by 2020.

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  • Jose Carreira (r) became EASO's executive director in April 2016 (Photo: EASO)

"So we are talking about a total deployment of at least 1,000 people, so that is quite new that will come with the new mandate," he said.

Along with new staffing arrangements comes a budget to match. In 2015, its combined revenues and expenditures was under €16 million, which has increased to €69 million this year.

Carreira, a Portuguese national who took the top Easo post in 2016, has a decentralised approach to management with a focus on delegation. It means the 500-strong workforce will not all be sent to Malta.

Many will join Easo offices in Athens or in Rome where they will be in charge of regional activities. The Athens office, for instance, supervises Turkey issues.

To reach the staff numbers, Easo is recruiting people from member state services, United Nations, and even other EU agencies.

"So it is quite amazing the success in our recruitment," he said.

Telling EU states what to do

The money and the staffing is part of a larger plan to get the agency much more involved in how EU states handle asylum claims.

Easo was upgraded earlier this year following an inter-institutional agreement between the European Parliament and the Council, representing members.

Although the fine print is still being sorted out, Easo was the only asylum file the EU managed to finalise so far this year.

The agreement allows it to provide guidance to member states on how they should interpret asylum law.

While not binding on national authorities, the guidance appears to be a step towards having the agency play an increasingly important role on the actual outcome of asylum applications.

The agreement also allows Easo to monitor how EU states implement asylum standards, their capacities to handle claims, and identify areas where they might need help.

Asked about his vision for the agency, Carreira said "the future had already arrived two years ago" in terms of updating its programmes like training and promotion of asylum services all over Europe.

"All the products that we have been developing now need to be updated with the new regulation and new decisions," he said.

The training will become mandatory for national asylum services as well as for deployed experts.

Mandatory relocation

With offices in Cyprus, Greece and Italy, the agency seeks "to bring convergence" on application decisions.

It will also operate the future mandatory relocation of asylum seekers. "We will be operating a key distribution mechanism in terms of solidarity in Europe," he said.

Carreira described the key distribution mechanism as the evolution of the current relocation programme "with a mandatory aspect".

The two-year relocation scheme broadly ended in September and was designed to move on asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU states.

The initial plan had called for some 160,000 to be relocated but was lowered amid political infighting among member states. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland flat out refused to participate. In the end, only 31,500 were relocated.

The idea is to create a more permanent relocation plan within EU asylum reforms under a system known as the 'Dublin' regulation.

The European Parliament is ready to negotiate but member states are far from ready given the political sensitivities over the issue. Donald Tusk, the EU's Council head, announced in October that obligatory migrant quotas had no future.

New Italy deal

Meanwhile, Carreira says Easo's impact on member states will continue to mount.

He said a deal would be announced sometime this month with Italy that would "substantially increase" its operational role.

While Easo will maintain its focus in Europe, it is also looking elsewhere.

It recently signed an agreement with Turkey's director general for migration management.

An initial phase of the agreement will run until next March in an effort to bring "the Turkish system in line with the European system as much as possible".

It has also worked on asylum systems in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia and remains active in the Western Balkans, notably Serbia and Montenegro.

An initial version of this story incorrectly stated Easo had an office in Bulgaria - it has operations there, but no offices.

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