Over the course of Q3 2020, the EASO Resettlement Sector has been working to support EU+ countries in resuming their resettlement operations despite the global suspension of resettlement activities in March 2020 due to COVID-19. EASO had already begun exploring online and remote ways of interviewing refugees before the pandemic due to initial interest expressed by EU+ countries. When interest intensified and demand grew in Q2 2020, as a result of face to face missions being cancelled, EASO stepped up its efforts to design ways in which refugees could be selected remotely by EU+ countries. As a result, a paper outlining a number of options and modalities for running remote missions was presented in June 2020. Discussions with EU+ countries interested in piloting a remote modality ensued, with Switzerland being the first country to commit to a remote selection mission in August.
|Between the 4th – 7th of August 2020, 23 refugees presented themselves at the EASO Resettlement Support Facility (RSF) in Istanbul to be considered for selection by a Swiss team of caseworkers who remained based at their workstations in Switzerland. EASO, in collaboration with its operational partner, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), ensured that the RSF environment was safe for both staff and refugees, complying with all Covid-19 prevention guidelines. This meant allocating more space to refugees, having families in different waiting rooms, as well as planning and monitoring the movement of refugees carefully throughout the mission.|
Having been briefed thoroughly beforehand, each refugee was connected to the responsible caseworker through an online secure connection. High sound and audio/video quality was ensured through the installations of new cameras and speakers in the interview rooms. To ensure an optimum level of safety, the interpreter sat in a room different to that of the refugee at the RSF and joined the interview through their own secure connection. A total of 13 interviews were carried out over four days, assisted by bilingual IT support as well as EASO RSF staff on-site.
Feedback from both Switzerland and the interviewed refugees after the mission was positive, highlighting several areas of best practices and indicating that selecting non-complex cases remotely could be a viable alternative to face to face missions. Given that the Swiss remote selection mission in August was a pilot, there were understandably some lessons to learn, which EASO will integrate into future remote missions.
Overall, EASO is delighted that it can continue supporting EU+ countries in the field of resettlement despite the challenges that Covid-19 has presented in 2020.