In the first quarter of 2021, the productivity of staff deployed by EASO Greece increased in comparison to last year. The arrivals have also dropped to less than 800 in the first months of the current year. Thus, the opportunity to decongest the islands was given and the backlog of last year was cleared by utilising the resources on the islands.
A similar opportunity to start reducing the backlog also appeared on the mainland, shifting the focus from the islands to the mainland, where the main output currently originates. Remote technology adopted due to Covid-19 had proven to be successful in 2020 and therefore it has been implemented also in 2021, by assigning caseworkers from the Islands to interview applicants remotely who are based in the mainland.
Further advantages developed by using remote technology, that benefited EASO, the Greek Asylum Service and applicants. Due to travel restrictions of staff and applicants, remote interviews decreased redeployments and missions, and provided the ability to conduct interviews from other locations following protocols and standard operating procedures (SOPs), which allowed for confidentiality and quality assurance.
This practice minimised the time between registrations and interviews leading in some cases to fall below 20 days.
In the first quarter of the year, interviews in both Regular and Border procedures amounted to 3 184 and registrations to 2 440. Currently the backlog is eliminated on the islands and the work is primarily focused on ongoing mainland cases.
In the second quarter of 2021, in the framework of the ad hoc disembarkation events, Italy EASO supported the lodging of asylum registrations of 197 applicants for international protection in the reception centres of the C.A.R.A (Centro di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo) of Bari and Crotone. During the period from April-May, the Italian authorities allowed the disembarkation of 4 NGO vessels with 1317 persons on board of which 846 adults, 45 accompanied minors and 426 unaccompanied minors(UAMs) into the Sicilian ports of Pozzallo, Augusta and Trapani.
After the fingerprint activities and a period of 10-15 days spent on quarantine vessels, applicants were transferred to reception facilities in the C.A.R.A of Bari and Crotone to allow for them to take part in the voluntary relocation procedures. Vulnerable applicants and UAMs were not included in this activity but were hosted in dedicated reception facilities on the mainland. In April, EASO supported the Italian authorities and the European Commission in the distribution process of applicants to the Member States, who had offered pledges for the voluntary relocation scheme: 30 applicants have been matched, following the agreed criteria with the national authorities and the European Commission, to the mentioned Member States.
Furthermore, during the same period, EASO provided logistic and cultural mediation support to Luxembourg and France delegations. As agreed with the Italian authorities these delegations performed additional interviews in the C.A.R.A. of Bari, to applicants disembarked through Search and Rescue (SAR) events and supported the matching procedures, as per agreed criteria, for the voluntary relocation activities.
Under the 2021 Operating Plan agreed by EASO and the Maltese National Authorities on providing support to the Maltese reception system, efforts have been aimed to enhance the capacity of the Vulnerability Assessment Response Team. Specific tools have been jointly developed in order to identify the vulnerable applicants living in the reception centers, namely a Special Needs Vulnerability Assessment tool, a Dry Screening Prioritization tool and a Recording tool.
From January till the end of May 2021, 12 vulnerability assessors have been deployed and 539 vulnerability assessments have been conducted in the main Maltese reception centers: Hal Far Tent Village, Marsa Initial Reception Centre and Hangar Open Center.
Vulnerability assessments have been conducted as well for applicants residing in closed centers, in order to identify main vulnerabilities among applicants which have lodged their application after the disembarkation in Malta. A referral mechanism has been developed in order to give the possibility to institutional and non-institutional stakeholders to inform in a structured manner about potential vulnerable applicants.
For EASO Cyprus in mid-June, the Asylum Examination Centre adjacent to the Pournara First Reception Centre became fully operational. As envisaged in the Operating Plan, EASO supported the operationalisation of the Centre with the deployment of one team of EASO Caseworkers working closely with the Cypriot Asylum Service (CAS) in the processing of the first instance determination of applications for international protection. EASO contributed to the realisation of the Examination Centre (and the adjacent waiting area) with the design and planning of the area, and eventually the supply of 32 containers. With the operationalisation of Pournara, EASO supports the first instance examination in 4 different locations on the island. This will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the first instance asylum processing contributing to the reduction of the existing the backlog.
EASO kicked off its first ever Operating Plan in Spain with a detailed needs assessment of the emergency situation in the Canary Islands. One important outcome of that exercise in terms of training was the need to develop an induction course for newly recruited staff in emergency reception centres. The idea of offering immediate training support to a large number of first liners working in humanitarian response in the six camps set-up in Gran Canaria , Tenerife and Fuerteventura encouraged EASO to explore alternative learning approaches.
To that end, the agency created a working group, under EASO coordination, with the most relevant organisations in the Canary Islands (UNHCR, IOM, Spanish Red Cross, ACCEM, Fundación Cruz Blanca and CEAR). Together they developed a tailor-made two-day training program of 8 hours to be delivered on a weekly basis. The target group is over 300 field staff.
The training focuses on the humanitarian context in the Canary Islands (mixed migration flows, trends, profiles, routes), refers to key asylum and reception concepts and documents and pays special attention to detecting asylum seekers, vulnerability, communication and information provision to asylum applicants and conflict management.
To date, more than 130 people have been trained and the average satisfaction rate is 92%. Quoting one of our participants:
“The course is useful and interesting; it is an opportunity to discover that we face similar challenges under difficult circumstances and can align with each other”.