Interview with Petra Blažejová, Member State expert from Slovakia deployed in the EASO Malta Operation

Please introduce yourself, your background and your work with the Slovak Reception Authority. 

I started to work at the Slovak Migration Office as the COI Researcher and have had the opportunity to be involved in various interesting projects with representatives from other European countries, either related to COI or capacity building. We are currently cooperating with UNHCR and the Ministry of Education on the Teaching about Refugees project. Since 2012, I have been working at the Migration and Integration Department, which focuses mainly on the social work within/outside asylum facilities and the integration of beneficiaries of international protection. I devote myself mostly to the identification of vulnerabilities and special needs of the asylum seekers (I am also a member of the EASO Vulnerability Experts Network). In order to raise awareness about migration that would be based on facts and figures we also offer discussions at schools and festivals.
 

You were deployed in Malta during the last months of December 2020 and in the beginning of 2021. What motivated you to apply?

One can read and hear about the migratory situation in other countries, but the field experience is incomparable: asylum seekers coming from different countries of origin, using routes with its peculiarities that have a specific impact on their later situation, conditions in other Member State (stakeholders involved, public narrative and acceptance, established communities, legal conditions e.g. the possibility to work after shorter period of time, reception conditions especially in the time of the  COVID-19 pandemic, available services, etc.), and the possibility to meet experts from other different Member States. Each experience is also about the people you have the chance to meet.
 

Could you describe your experience in Malta?

As a member of MT4 and later MT2 team (Enhanced capacity to implement reception standards in line with the CEAS), I was responsible for supporting the vulnerability assessment process for AWAS (Maltese Reception Authority) through the review of draft assessments, by providing individual feedback to the assessors, supervision sessions, identification of possible training needs together with other quality assurance support officers. Together we were submitting final assessments to AWAS, flagging case specifications. After this it was the role of AWAS to take actions according to these specifications. It was the opportunity to see and take part in the vulnerability assessment under different conditions and as such it contributes to the exchange of experience within the EU. 


Which were the main challenges?

COVID-19 preventive measures also had a significant impact on our work. It is more difficult to review somebody else’s assessment, provide suggestions and feedback when you do not know each other, especially at the beginning. Luckily it happened in the time of the VTC possibility, but to have a common space, where you meet face-to-face and have the chance to go through the assessment in person, share immediate impressions, exchange views – it is not comparable. Therefore, when feasible, I tried to spend my time as much as possible in the open centres in order to see the practical issues the assessors had to deal with and have the chance to talk to them in person.

There was a difference in the way the assessments had to be carried out. The assessors mostly have one chance for the assessment of the needs and vulnerabilities via an informal interview by using the assessment tool, whereas in Slovakia the same professional can follow the person of concern and can use other methods as well, e.g. observation, free time activities and use advantage of having cooperation with other professionals, for example a psychologist, doctor, or cultural mediator. Thus there is a luxury of having more time and more opportunities to build trust before people share some sensitive information. In spite of that, the assessors of the EASO Team were able to make the most  of it. 


What did you learn during your deployment in Malta which you are able to apply to your everyday work in Slovakia?

We are reviewing our own vulnerability and special needs assessment tool and adapting some features that I found useful from the interview, personal professional approach of the assessors and the tool used by the EASO Team for these purposes. 

One can also better imagine and understand the conditions faced by other countries experiencing migration pressures. I would definitely recommend it.
 

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