Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Malta's bid for EASO. Why?

Scouring the Internet for items on EASO, I came across an interesting document: the proposal document from the Maltese government. The proposal site specifically set-up for the lobbying campaign (www.easomalta.eu) is no longer available, yet the document gives a good idea of why Malta felt EASO should be based here.

The document, entitled “Building Bridges on Asylum: Malta’s Bid for the European Asylum Support Office” is essentially a brochure selling Malta’s best wares and could feel like a brochure targeting a specific kind of tourist...which ultimately it is. Together with the lovely photos of Malta, all bathed in warm sunlight, the document also provides useful information and statistics, such as flights to/from Malta, hotels within EASO’s proximity, our education system and, of course, our famous lifestyle!

On a more directly relevant level, the document presents the plans for the EASO premises, a “total office area of approximately 2,400 square metres, distributed on three floors”. The structural plan of the premises is also provided.

The competition for hosting EASO started off with Cyprus, Bulgaria and Malta, with Malta also having participated in the competition to host Frontex. During the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels on 30th November 2009, Malta was selected as the Office’s base.

Why Malta? From the Maltese perspective, this is being perceived as a victory in reminding the MS that the largest EU asylum/migration pressures are being felt at the southern borders. Together with this symbolic significance, the feeling on the ground in Malta is that EASO will solve, or will be a catalyst in solving, most if not all of Malta’s asylum problems...the major solution intensely desired by most of the Maltese population (and of the refugee population) is the relocation of most (or all?) beneficiaries of international protection, either to other EU MS or beyond the EU’s shores to the US, Australia...And yes, one of EASO’s functions is in fact to assist those MS facing particular pressures, which assistance Malta defines as converting the voluntary intra-EU relocation mechanism into a compulsory one and a suspension in its regard and revision of the Dublin II Regulation (we must also keep in mind Frontex’s assistance, and the impact of the Italian pushback policy...embraced by the Maltese authorities and possibly simulated in July 2010).

Yet what I would like as a spin-off from EASO’s presence in Malta is increased EU and international focus on the situation on the persons reaching Malta’s shores. I hope the positioning of EASO just a few kilometres from Malta’s infamous detention centres and reception centres will really act as a catalyst for change...improvement of living standards, revision of the detention policy, curbing of intense racist sentiment, and the formulation and implementation of an integration policy.

For all of this, EASO is most welcome to Malta!

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