The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on EASO Malta operations

From March to June, Malta was one of the European countries the least affected by the pandemic as it swept across the globe. From July onward however, the situation in Malta started to deteriorate rapidly in terms of new cases. The outlook has improved again since then but the pandemic is by no means a thing of the past. 

Against this context the EASO Malta Operation has had to develop a series of resources and skills to adapt to these ever-changing circumstances. On 13 March, all registrations and interviews were suspended. 

In May, registrations and asylum interviews were resumed remotely and, as of July, face-to-face activities begun again - with protective personal equipment (PPE) and social distancing protocols in place based on prevailing national guidelines and relevant EASO ED Decisions. In order to understand better the impact of the pandemic on its teams and work, EASO conducted in-depth interviews with eleven members of the Malta Operations to gather information and feedback on safety, teleworking, adaptation to change and other related topics. 

In regards to safety, the respondents acknowledged that EASO is providing a good working environment. Individual responsibility is high, with some personnel even limiting their social life outside work to protect themselves, their colleagues and applicants. At the same time some interviewees also pointed out the difficulties of adhering to social distancing measures at work in the long-term, especially when the rate of infections was very low. 

Teleworking has been very well appreciated because it allows personnel to concentrate more and reduce the level of stress. However, some workers have experienced feelings of isolation due to the loss of direct interactions. 

New practices, such as remote interviews and registrations, have worked very well but there are some downsides. Face-to-face interviews with protective personal equipment require additional efforts (such as modulating the voice) from both interpreters and applicants. 

In conclusion, the internal feedback seems to indicate that investments made in technology have strengthened the EASO Malta Operations and equipped it better for future challenges. 

It also reveals that personnel have developed new skills, mainly in planning and self-organisation, and have demonstrated increased resilience.

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