On 23 July 2020, EASO hosted it’s first Consultative Forum thematic webinar on the impact of COVID-19 on asylum in the EU. The webinar which was followed by not less that 90 participants, was open to relevant civil society organisations, IGOs, academia, think tanks, representatives from Member State authorities, EU institutions and EASO staff.
The webinar was divided into three main sessions:
- Session 1 focused on the impact of COVID-19 on EASO’s activities as well as Member States’ asylum and reception systems;
- Session 2 discussed the impact of COVID-19 on civil society organisations, and;
- Session 3 focused discussions on ”What is next?” in terms of anticipated and emerging asylum trends as well as future developments of the CEAS.
During the first session, EASO provided an overview of how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted on EASO’s main activities, whilst also explaining the specific support that EASO has been providing to Member States tailored to help them respond to the Covid challenges. Furthermore, more detailed information was provided on measures taken by Member States in their asylum and reception systems in response to COVID-19, based on two reports published by EASO (Issue 1 June 2 and Issue 2 July 15).
During Session 2, the floor was given to Civil Society Organisations including ECRE, the Portuguese Refugee Council, Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen and the Swedish Red Cross. They presented and discussed about the challenges that the pandemic brought to their work, including good practices in responding to these.
During the last session EASO, the Commission and UNHCR discussed what is next, in terms of anticipated and emerging asylum trends and how to respond to these, as well as further developments of the CEAS in the wake of Covid-19.
The following main points emerged from discussions throughout the meeting:
- The pandemic has forced a rethink of the traditional functioning of EU+ countries’ asylum and reception systems. Physical distancing measures, including the inability to carry out tasks requiring face-to-face contacts, initially made it difficult for asylum authorities to perform certain steps in the asylum procedure. Member States consequently resorted to e-solutions (such as electronic tools and portals for lodging asylum applications, e-services for information provision, remote interviewing, and digital case-management) as a means to resume asylum procedures. Although these new tools and procedures were meant as short-term emergency solutions, they now appear to be emerging as part of the ”new normal” with likely long-lasting effects on the CEAS.
- Similar to Member States, many CSOs have equally resorted to e-solutions to be able to continue to implement their activities and provide support to asylum seekers. Examples included e-counselling meetings, provision of information through digital tools and the creation of digital platforms and hotlines.
- The trend of digitalisation in the field of asylum presents opportunities as well as new challenges. CSOs emphasised certain gaps in the implementation of new tools/procedures which have challenged asylum seekers’ access to effective and fair procedures. They stressed the need to further look into some of the new tools and procedures and called upon Member States to implement practices in line with the EU legal framework.
As to what is next, participants agreed that the asylum situation in the EU remains volatile with possible increased migratory pressure following the Covid-19 pandemic. A comprehensive EU approach to migration and asylum is urgently needed – one which should be efficient and crisis resilient but also characterised by more intra-EU solidarity, including solidarity towards asylum seekers and refugees.
For any questions, please write to: Consultative-Forum@easo.europa.eu.