How COVID-19 has affected operations and the way forward to the “new normal”

In the last few months, EASO has been guiding Member States on how they can continue asylum procedures within the context of COVID-19 measures. In this regard, EASO has issued practical recommendations on how Member States can carry out remote interviews for asylum applicants and also prepare for a possible “second wave”.

The gradual resumption of EASO Operations in Greece, Italy, Malta and Cyprus has been achieved thanks to innovative working methods, including using remote interview technologies and applying social distancing and other related health and safety protocols.

Despite the unforeseen circumstances caused by the pandemic, EASO continued to support ad hoc disembarkations and voluntary relocations during the lockdowns, particularly in Greece and Italy. 

EASO activities in Greece continue under the new national asylum legal frame, applicable as of the beginning of the year across the country, while the Agency’s overall presence is continuously increasing as planned and foreseen for the year 2020, aiming at reaching more than 1,000 personnel deployed for all profiles and activities.

Since March, in view of the COVID-19 outbreak, all activities and established workflows across the country have been adjusted to fully align with national health and safety protocols. Restrictions in place until end of May applied in all operational and reception areas.

All EASO staff were put on teleworking and all deployments in the country were temporarily suspended in order to ensure the safety of EASO teams. While activities requiring face-to-face interaction were suspended, EASO teams continued providing support on quality checks, back-office work and backlog management.

Increased productivity

Between March and May, while COVID-19 restrictions applied, overall outputs on asylum continued increasing, following the highest productivity level which was reached at the end of February (concerning close to 20,000 individuals). This is mainly thanks to constantly increased available resources, the streamlining of vulnerability procedures as well as the revised workflows during the COVID-19 outbreak that enhanced the productivity for both EASO and Greek Asylum Service caseworkers. In April, a new Relocation Scheme for Unaccompanied Minors kicked-off with the first children being relocated from the Greek islands to Luxembourg and Germany.

Malta: As the country makes its way through the transition period and COVID-19 measures are gradually lifted, EASO personnel are now working on different shifts to ensure safe work practices in line with the guidance from the Maltese Public Health authorities.

As of 18 May the Refugee Commissioner's office has been officially re-opened and EASO has resumed its on-location support carrying out registrations. From 25 May the Agency has also started personal interviews in Safi Centre.

In Italy activities such as disembarkation and registration were processed digitally throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, with a minimal requirement of in-person interactions.

EASO staff in Italy have now begun preparing to resume suspended activities in Questure (local Police offices) once the latter will open again for registrations. An amendment to the Operating Plan signed with Italy, entailing additional second instance support activities, as well as the development of case scheduling tools for registrations, is foreseen in the near future.

EASO in Cyprus is also resuming its operations in Kofinou.

Furthermore, the resumption of registrations is being planned, initially in Larnaca and later at all six locations, while continuing to operate remote interviews.

In parallel, EASO is supporting the Cypriot Asylum Service and the European Commission in respect of the relocation of vulnerable asylum seekers from Cyprus.

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