EU asylum official: Backlog of requests hampers cooperation
Europe’s attempt to a create a single system for granting asylum has hit resistance from national governments, reluctant to share expertise as they deal with a backlog of refugee requests, according to the new head of the EU’s asylum agency.
“We need to grow from a boy to an adult in terms of resources and capacities,” said José Carreira, executive director of the European Asylum Support Agency, in an interview in Brussels. “It’s a gradual process” and EU national governments support the new approach, but “sometimes because of their own conditions they have some difficulties in giving sufficient number of staff.”
The Malta-based agency is preparing for an overhaul after the European Commission in May proposed giving it new powers that will turn it from a support-provider into a more operational body. The proposal is part of Commission’s effort to standardize EU rules on asylum after the system collapsed last year under the strain of nearly 1.3 million applications.
According to one of the Commission’s proposals, which are being discussed in the European Parliament, EASO will be turned into “a fully-fledged European Union Agency for Asylum with an enhanced mandate and considerably expanded tasks.”
But officials said the backlog of asylum requests from last year remains so extensive — 1.1 million cases are pending — that national authorities have not been able to share experts with the EU agency, making it difficult to expand its powers.
Carreira said “the agency has been recruiting heavily” but it needs to increase its staff from 126 people to 500. At the beginning of September EASO issued a call for 100 more experts to deploy in Greece but so far it has received fewer than half of them.
Carreira is a former U.N. World Food Program official, who has also worked in the EU border agency Frontex. He was lukewarm on the idea that the EU should replicate elsewhere its deal with Turkey in which it provides humanitarian aid payments in exchange for Ankara’s cooperation on stemming migration flows. Some countries, such as Germany and Italy, are pushing for a similar arrangement with Egypt, which according to press reports has asked Europe for €1 billion to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.
“I refrain from saying yes or no” to that option, Carreira said, stressing that the agency’s task is to implement and not to take policy decisions. But “each situation is a case in itself and the migration in the Central Mediterranean is a migration phenomenon but it needs a different approach.”