Tuesday, 24 May 2016

EASO EU and Global Asylum-Related Migration Research Conference Report

On 16 May 2016 EASO held its Asylum-Related Migration Research Conference. This conference presented the efforts of the European Asylum Support Office itself as well as efforts by various other agencies in conducting research aimed at ensuring constructive and evidence-based policies related to migration. The result is a comprehensive overview of research and research-based modelling related to migration, and in particular asylum-related migration, presented below.

Session 1

The conference was introduced by a presentation of the EASO’s work and the context of asylum in the EU. The framework set by the Common European Asylum System is an imperative consideration in this regard.

EASO’s function is to ensure coherent implementation of the CEAS as well as to provide evidence-based policy input to the EU in order to safeguard the common practices of all Member States in relation to asylum policy.

EASO have set out three research aims to strive for in the immediate future, namely to conduct better research into the functioning of current migration law in Europe; to provide better support to policy developers on the basis of this; and to be able to give better advice in relation to asylum law in practice. This conference is the beginning of EASO’s ambitious objectives of strengthening its role as a support provider under the CEAS.

EASO’s research:
The research conducted by EASO has been concentrated into four clusters. These focus firstly on review of what is currently known in the area of migration and asylum. Secondly, the carrying out of empirical work by collecting data in order to analyse this field. Thirdly, the creation of models and tools in order to better streamline their work of improving the functioning of migration and asylum policies in Europe. Fourthly, to develop supervisory tools allowing the tracking of information sources.

The EU’s research:
The EU has arranged a number of conferences as well as policy review sessions, and has issued several publications addressing its priorities regarding migration research under its Horizon 2020 research programme. This focus on giving research a key role in the creation of new programmes has led to the emergence of a number of initiatives. One such key initiative is the Science4Refugees programme, which ‘matches talented refugees and asylum seekers who have a scientific background with positions in universities and research institutions’. Further, the EU’s Work Programme for 2016-2017, developed under the Horizon 2020 scheme, has set out several goals concerning the EU’s policies regarding migration. One area of policy development, entitled ‘A Stronger Global Actor’, aims, as the name suggests, to strengthen the EU’s position in a global context through ‘international cooperation calls and targeted initiatives relating to societal challenges’. Another area has been entitled ‘Towards a New Policy on Migration’. This policy area encourages the carrying out of research related to the origins of migration, and will, through evidence-based research, provide recommendations relating to ‘insights on migration, humanitarian assistance and development cooperation policies.’

The Societal Challenge 6 was also borne from the Horizon 2020 scheme. This programme, bearing the subheading ‘Europe in a changing world – inclusive, innovative and reflective societies’, aims to ‘to foster greater understanding of a culturally and socially rich and diverse Europe’ and ‘to enhance understanding of societal conditions, to ensure transformative and structural changes take account of these in promoting future prosperity, well-being and cohesion’ through its research-based recommendations provided to the European Commission. An Expert Advisory Group on Societal Challenge 6 met in February 2016 in order to further these aims, discussing, among other things, its research agenda as well as its role and objectives.

Some useful links to explore these issues further:

Session 2

The IOM:
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides assistance in four different areas of migration management, namely migration and development; facilitating migration; regulating migration; and forced migration. The IOM opened their Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) in Berlin in 2015. This centre aims to provide data on global migration issues in order to aid the development of effective migration policies. Through the provision of analysis of such issues, the GMDAC aims to enhance the IOM’s efforts in building the data capacities of the EU, as well as promote a better understanding of migration data and its usage. Further, the IOM was commission by EASO to conduct a literature review regarding the push and pull factors of asylum-related migration. The conclusion was that there is a relative consensus that socio-economic as well as political factors play a large role in determining the draw of certain groups of migrants to certain states. However, there is a divergence on issues such as demographic variables; historical, cultural and geographic factors; and environmental factors.

UN research:
The UNHCR’s New Issues in Refugee Research has published 278 papers since 1949, providing a comprehensive overview of research concerning refugees. The UNHCR has highlighted the importance of allowing refugees themselves to formulate the research agenda, in order for the research to best reflect the issues faced by refugees themselves. Further, the interpretation and presentation of data by journalists has been called into question by the UNHCR, as this has often been done without the scientific insight required in order to adequately present the findings of this research. Collecting data and capturing how to apply it operationally demands a particular understanding of the data and its relevance. Because of this, the journalistic presentation of data relating to asylum seekers and migrants is often somewhat distorted.

Session 3

Migration modelling:
Current migration modelling focuses on both net migration and individual flows on migrants. Consideration must be made to measurement of these flows, theories regarding them, and forecasts of future migratory flows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no single model has been deemed conclusively superior. However, migration models are useful in predicting migratory flows through certain forecasting measures, and, consequently, to develop policies on the basis of this, e.g. through impact assessment, etc.

The Task Force on Migration was set up in 2016 in order to strengthen support to the European Commission in managing migration. This is also adjoined to the Horizon 2020 scheme, and is a part of the European Agenda on Migration.

In order to facilitate the further advancement of these objectives, the Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography will be opened in Brussels on 20 June 2016. Internal stakeholders in this launch are the Directorate-General (DG) for Migration and Home Affairs, DG Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, DG Research and Innovation, and the European Political Strategy Centre. External stakeholders are the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and the IOM, mentioned above. This centre will function as an information hub providing ‘continuous situational awareness on migration’, and will focus on socio-economic modelling, as well as qualitative and quantitative analysis, in order to improve our understanding of different factors in the integration of migrants, and the impact of migration on the EU. This will in turn provide foresight into the development of migration.

The RHOMOLO model is another important point of consideration. RHOMOLO is the ‘dynamic spatial general equilibrium model’ employed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. This model analyses policies relating to, among others, migration. Issues such as labour market participation, unemployment, educational, and wages are considered in order to determine integration levels. The preliminary results of the RHOMOLO model is that high levels of expenditure on integration leads to the furthering of economic growth. In order for the EU to fully exploit the benefits of migration, it must develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of how to facilitate integration. Evidence-based research, of all the types presented above, leads to the enhancement of the EU’s capability in implementing better policies concerning migration and integration, which in turn facilitates economic growth and a better functioning of the labour market.

Session 4

The Fundamental Rights Agency:
The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency’s (FRA) mandate is to provide assistance and expertise on issues related to fundamental rights in the EU. In an effort to improve their capability of doing this effectively, FRA has conducted several surveys of migrants and ethnic minorities in order to collect reliable and comprehensive data on these matters. This include their minorities and discrimination survey, in order to facilitate the creation of evidence-based policies addressing discriminatory practices and accordingly to improve support for victims of such discrimination. In also includes their Roma survey, which addresses issues faced specifically by the Roma community in several EU Member States, and their survey on discrimination and hate crime against Jewish people.

Additionally, FRA has published several works relating specifically to migration and asylum in the EU, such as their Opinion concerning an EU common list of safe countries of origin, their Handbook on European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration, their report regarding fundamental rights at the EU’s external borders, and their ‘toolbox’ regarding legal entry channels to the EU for persons in need of international protection.

The Migration Policy Institute:
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI), part of the European University Institute, has conducted comprehensive surveying of forced migration. Particular focus has been directed at Syria, with a website set up presenting all facts gathered and reports and policy briefs produced in one place, so as to provide an efficient overview.

The REFMISMES Project has been another point of focus. This project seeks to identify policies and practices which facilitate the integration of refugees into the labour market in a selection of EU Member States. Analyses have been conducted, as well as specific country case studies. The countries of focus have been Austria, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. The result is a comprehensive overview of issues as well as literature concerning labour market integration in these states.

The issue of smuggling has also been addressed by the MPI, with a literature feed having been set up, as well as a comprehensive report also having been produced and published.

Concluding remarks

EASO managed to compile and present an impressive overview of asylum-related research through this conference. The stated commitment to conduct research and review literature in this field will undoubtedly strengthen their ability to fulfil their mandate. Further, the UNHCR’s commitment to allowing refugees themselves to shape the research being conducted in this field is especially promising.

However, the approach may be criticised for being too institutionalised. There is a clear absence of NGO-led research as well as research conducted in the academic sector, rendering this overview incomplete.

Allowing for a greater role for NGOs may better facilitate the inclusion of refugees in both the shaping and execution of research concerning asylum, and its use as a tool for advocacy may be strengthened. The wealth of information and data gathered, analysed and presented by NGOs is simply staggering and cannot be ignored, also because it presents perspectives that could be missing from the institutional approach to research. We appreciate the difficulty in mapping the extent of this research, yet encourage EASO to further liaise with the members of its Consultative Forum to see how best to tap into this valuable resource.

Additionally, whether this research is being used as a tool for constructing more evidence-based law or policies, or being used to formulate other strategies to better manage the current flow of refugees, is not made explicit. The exact effect and utilisation of the research presented is therefore still unclear. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to welcome this new approach as it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

Monday, 16 May 2016

EASO EU and Global Asylum-Related Migration Research Conference

Today our team member Ingebjørg is participating at the European Asylum Support Office’s EU and Global Asylum-Related Migration Research Conference in Malta.

The Conference will examine EASO’s Research Programme on the push and pull factors of migration, Horizon 2020, research on forced migration globally, migration modelling, as well as the surveying of asylum seekers and refugees.

If you have any specific queries or issues you would like to have us raise during the event, just get in touch with us.

Provisional Agenda:

Session 1: Research on forced migration in the EU

An Overview of EASO’s Research Programme will be provided by Marcello Carammia and Tim Cooper of EASO.

Presentation of the EU’s priorities on migration research under Horizon 2020 by Elisabeth Lipiatou from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research.

Session 2: Research on forced migration globally

Presentation of International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Research on Migration, and the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre by Frank Laczko of IOM/GMDAC.
Presentation of UNHCR’s Research on Refugees by Kimberly Roberson of the UNHCR.

Session 3: Migration modelling

Presentation of migration modelling by Jakub Bijak of the Centre for Population Change at the University of Southampton.

Presentation of the Joint Research Centre (JRC)’s Research on Migration Modelling by d’Artis Kancs of the European Commission’s DG Joint Research Centre.

Session 4: Surveying asylum seekers and refugees

Presentation of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)’s studies and surveys on migrants and ethnic minorities in the EU by David Reichel of FRA.

“Surveying the issue of forced migration: Contributions of MPC to the understanding of a key challenge for Europe”, presentation by Justyna Salamońska of the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) and the European University Institute.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Syrian refugee crisis: the end of the Common European Asylum System?

The European Union has endeavoured to streamline asylum policy throughout the Union through the creation of a Common European Asylum System. This system is currently under great strain due to the surge of refugees and migrants entering the territory of the European Union in large part due to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Consequently, discussions have taken place regarding the viability of the CEAS, with some researchers deeming these discussions to have ‘dominated the EU agenda during 2014-2015’. Many have claimed that the operation of the CEAS is not viable. 

However, the magnitude of the current refugee crisis, and the consequent responses to it, demonstrate a pressing need for Union-wide operational instruments with regards to the reception and managing of asylum seekers and migrants. In other words, a Common European Asylum System is still imperative to the optimal functioning of the asylum systems in the EU Member States, albeit not in its in current state.

The situation under CEAS

Perhaps the most significant part of the CEAS is the Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that an asylum seeker must remain in the Member State in which they were initially registered in order to have their application processed. In 2010, 20 years after the implementation of the Dublin regime, the European Asylum Support Office was established in an attempt to ease such pressures. Its role was envisioned to ‘facilitate, coordinate and strengthen practical cooperation among Member States on the many aspects of asylum’ under the umbrella of the CEAS. However, in order to invoke the assistance of EASO a Member State must request it, and the costs of this assistance will be divided equally between the relevant Member State and EASO, drastically diminishing its appeal.

The Syrian refugee crisis

Over 507,000 refugees from Syria entered Europe between April 2011 and September 2015. In 2014, Syrian refugees represented nearly 20% of the total number of refugees entering Europe. The routes of the refugees and migrants entering Europe are a requisite consideration in this regard. In 2014, approximately 219,000 migrants entered Europe through one of the many Mediterranean sea routes. In 2015 this number had increased to over 690,000, of which 53% were Syrians. The vast majority of those migrating through the sea routes have arrived in Greece or Italy, but crucially, there has been a significant shift in the initial country of arrival: in 2014 the vast majority of arrivals by sea had arrived in Italy, whereas in 2015 over 548,000 of the stated 690,000 arrived in Greece. This is a result of the increase in the amount of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe. As the Dublin Regulation provides that an asylum seeker must remain in the Member State in which they lodged their initial application, this has resulted in a particular strain on the reception of migrants and asylum seekers in these peripheral Member States.

Article 17 of the Dublin III Regulation, the ‘sovereignty clause’, provides that a Member State ‘may decide to examine an application’ should they wish to. In 2013, Sweden became the first country to announce they would offer permanent residency to any Syrian refugee who made it there. Germany announced in August of 2015 that they would derogate from the Dublin Regulation on the basis of the provision in Article 17 in relation to Syrian refugees. The Czech Republic shortly followed suit, announcing they would not detain Syrians enroute to Germany. Germany did, however, rather quickly modify their announcement, reinstating controls at German borders.

Both Italy and Greece have received support from EASO in their efforts to cope in the current situation, and this provision of support has been renewed and extended following their initial commencement for both countries. Further, on 27 May 2015 the European Commission presented a legislative proposal establishing certain provisional measures in order to aid Italy and Greece with regards to the reception of asylum seekers and migrants. This was adopted in September of 2015, and declared that 24 000 asylum applicants from Italy as well as 16 000 applicants from Greece would be relocated to other Member States. These provisions will apply until September 2017. This is arguably a step towards rectifying the inadequacies of the Dublin Regulation, but nevertheless constitutes a drop in the ocean, considering the total amount of Mediterranean refugees reached over 1,000,000 in 2015.

EASO Director José Carreira in Lesvos

Also an important consideration in this regard are cases like M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece and Tarakhel v. Switzerland, brought before the European Court of Human Rights. These held that the return of refugees to certain countries, in spite of the state of legislation under the Dublin Regulation, may be halted on human rights grounds. Furthermore, these cases concerned the return of refugees to, respectively, Greece and Italy. This is a clear indicator that the law under the CEAS is not being adhered to. The cause of this appears to be the current organisation of the Dublin Regulation, as the level of burden-sharing is insufficient in order to manage such an extreme situation as the current migratory influx.

The end of CEAS?

Policy harmonisation is not enough to ensure the functioning of CEAS. The fluctuation in the amount of asylum seekers and migrants, their countries of origin, and accordingly, their migratory routes is evident of this. Consequently, integration of asylum policies in the Member States of a rather large scope is required in order to ensure the success of CEAS. This, coupled with further measures ensuring a more equal distribution of the burden is, however, politically sensitive territory and thus poses great challenges to the policy-makers. Discussions regarding fairer distribution of the burden of asylum seekers have been taking place since the 1990s, and as stated above, some of this has been eased by certain provisional measures. However, studies have concluded that between 15 to 40 percent of asylum applications would need to be transferred between Member States in order to ensure a fair distribution. Some scholars have found this to be the only feasible method in which the cost and responsibilities of the reception of asylum seekers can be fairly and equally distributed.

The comprehensiveness required in order to facilitate and effectively manage the current migratory influx might, in fact, indicate the important, perhaps necessary, role of the CEAS. Nevertheless, a shift is required in its focus as well as its operational methods in order to achieve its goals. 

In conclusion

The Syrian refugee crisis is not likely to be the end of the CEAS. However, policy harmonisation as the primary operational instrument for the CEAS is insufficient under the current migratory influx. The extent of this influx instead demonstrates the need for a more comprehensive and integrated system in order to properly manage it in a Union-wide sense. Further, the effectiveness of the role of EASO in assisting the operation of the CEAS is severely restricted as a result of the arrangement of its funding and the need for its presence to be formally requested. The CEAS and EASO have the potentiality of holding great value to the EU and to the functioning of asylum systems in its Member States. However, unless reform is achieved, this may very well spell the end for a common asylum policy for the EU altogether.

Monday, 4 April 2016

EASO Expands Access to Country of Origin Information

EASO have recently announced that its COI Portal will now be made accessible to the general public. Rendering the Portal available for practitioners and civil society organisations allows for greater transparency within the field and specifically for the work of EASO and of MS as they process and decide on asylum applications. 

It seems that the Portal’s technology will be improved and updated: the Beta version aims to have a better search facility with a more interactive and easy to use page. It will be compatible with different sources and will cater for the use of different languages. It aims to also provide more English language abstracts for documents which are not in English, allowing more users to easily identify document content.


You can access the Portal here and you may also register. Registration should eventually lead to personal notifications related to your specific area of interest.

We welcome the news that the Portal will be open to practitioners and actors operating outside the MS context. Together with many colleagues active in providing legal support to asylum-seekers, we have often insisted with EASO that principles of natural justice, particularly the right to an effective remedy - enshrined in EU law - require applicants (and their legal representatives) to have access to those elements on which decisions in their regard are taken. This includes COI. It is only with such access can applicants understand and, where relevant, challenge the basis of their asylum decisions.

We also believe in the value of a transparent Portal that allows individuals or organisations to examine the content and accuracy of the information used by MS in assessing asylum applications.  

Monday, 1 February 2016

Draft Report on the situation in the Mediterranean: Is EASO becoming the new "principal coordinator of the CEAS"?

On the 18th of January 2016 Members of the European Parliament: Roberta Metsola (EPP) and Cécile Kyenge (S&D) delivered a report on “the situation in the Mediterranean and the need for a holistic EU approach to migration” where they submitted their recommendations in relation to migration and border management.

This report was a result of the Resolution ((2014/2097)(RSP)), where the European Parliament requested the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to deliver a report which would touch upon a variety of issues regarding migration, listed below:

  • Article 80 - Solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including search and rescue obligations;
  • Tackling criminal smuggling, trafficking and labor exploitation of irregular migrants;
  • Border management and visa-policy, including the role of Frontex and other relevant Agencies;
  • Developing safe and lawful routes for asylum seekers and refugees into the EU including the Union resettlement policy and corresponding integration policies;
  • The strategy on cooperation with third countries, in particular on regional protection programmes, resettlement, returns and to address the root causes of migration;
  • Developing adequate legal economic migration channels;
  • Analysis on how Home Affairs funds are spent in migration & development context, including emergency funds;
  • And last but certainly not least, the effective implementation of the CEAS, including the role of European Asylum Support Office (EASO).

Sections 58 and 59 of the report are dedicated on recommendations on the improvement of EASO. Section 58 introduces the possible development of EASO as the “principal coordinator of the CEAS”. Principal coordinator” is an extremely interesting term, especially for a European agency that is relatively new and the competences of which have not always been crystal clear. It must be underlined that there is no definition or further analysis of this term, although the report states that “EASO needs to develop from a collection of experts from Member States into a fully-fledged Union Agency providing operational support to Member States and at the external borders”. It therefore becomes clear that the report underlines the need for a more proactive agency approach largely to support the Member States operationally.

We wonder, in particular, how the report understands the term ‘principal coordinator’ in the context of EASO’s relationship with the Commission and whether the MEPs believe EASO should become an agency primarily concerned with ground support. We’ve often noted this tension in EASO’s mandate, and highlighted that whilst we believe in the importance of operational support to struggling Member States, we also stress that EASO has far more potential and utility in addressing the lack of harmonisation of the standards stipulated in CEAS. We firmly believe that EASO should not become an operational crutch for struggling Member States, but that it should be far more proactive in supporting the creation and implementation of a vision for CEAS and for refugees coming to and living in the EU.

As expected, the report also touched upon the the budgetary limitation in relation to relocation, resettlement and the external dimension. The writers highlight that a mere EUR 30,000 will not suffice under the current circumstances, especially in view of EASO’s heavy involvement in relocation. The report specifies that EASO will not be able to live up to expectations in its current form. It also identifies lack of human resources as one of the core reasons. Interestingly, the report clarifies that this is an issue that must be resolved not only in the short term but also in the long term.


After contacting MEP Roberta Metsola, she stated that:
"There is no quick fix to migration. We need to all move from our entrenched ideological towers, look at every single aspect of the issue and come up with an all-encompassing plan that looks at all the short, medium and long-term options available.

But coming up with a plan on paper is not enough, we must have something that works in practice and does not just serve to grab a few headlines before sitting on a shelf to gather dust. This is what we have tried to do with this report - we are determined to plot the political direction for future action on this issue. It simply cannot wait."

Overall, said report stresses that EASO has the capacity to have a very important role with regards to CEAS, however it can only do so if certain changes are made. It identifies the budgetary increase as one of the main ways to achieve that result, however it does not give clear and specific guidelines on how this can be achieved. On the other hand, one could argue that this report may be a shallow but an important step forward in order to resolve some of the current migration issues that the EU is facing.