Thursday, 20 September 2012

Thoughts on EASO from Malta's former JHA Minister

On 13th September Malta's former JHA Minister, Dr. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, has written a blogpost on EASO.  His blog is in Maltese, which is fine with us as it's our mother tongue.  Many thanks to our intern Rita for providing the translation, below.


Various thoughts crossed my mind whilst attending a very important ceremony last Friday morning, at the Valletta waterfront.  I remembered the great effort and work done, by others and myself, in order to establish within the Maltese islands the European Asylum Support Office.  Despite the great importance of such office, most of us fail to appreciate how truly relevant it is to us.  

Nonetheless the services offered by the Office are there.  Our country has the honour of saying that regardless of being one of the new EU Member States, we have such an Office in our territory; an Office that deals with a European sector of great sensitivity and that demands continuous attention.  This clear political journey was embarked upon under the French Presidency of the 2nd half of the year 2008.  I now look back and remember all that I had yet to go through at the time (both good things and bad); within the European Institutions, the various EU capitals within which I had yet to attend meetings, and also the different countries I was yet to visit.

It was not easy to reach an agreement with twenty-six other member states regarding a political document of such great weight.  This was especially so because this political scenario was being developed during a financial crisis.  The European Pact on Immigrationand Asylum established, for the first time, a path that all states agreed to follow.  It established a clear direction for states to follow; a direction that previously did not exist.  The agreement contained and still contains several relevant and important points that are of great interest to all Member States, especially those Member States that are situated on the geographical border of the EU. 

Left to right: Former JHA Minister Dr. Mifsud Bonnici, Malta Prime
Minister Dr. Gonzi, EASO Executive Director Dr. Visser

It is very relevant to those states that have to deal, cope and answer to the waves of irregular migrants arriving on their borders.  Unfortunately the agreement was unjustly criticised in a very harsh manner and without any consideration for the existing political reality.  On the other hand, fortunately for us, we are now reaping the positive benefits we managed to acquire through such an agreement.   We benefited greatly from such an agreement and as long as we continue to strive towards following it in a holistic manner we stand to benefit even more in the coming years.

The two main points I had focused on were:  firstly the inclusion of a solidarity clause within the agreement; and secondly that the European Asylum Support Office be established in Malta.  Again I now begin to remember the several discussions, some long, some short, which I had had with a number of experienced ministers and officials.  All of them brought before me information regarding the arguments, for and against, the inclusion of a solidarity clause within the agreement. The solidarity clause would permit states such as our own to acquire direct assistance with regard to irregular immigration.   

Despite the fact that the arguments for the inclusion of a solidarity clause placed in previous times, even by larger states than our own had resulted in failure, now for the first time ever this political concept was incorporated into an agreement.  Furthermore, I remember the great many people that tried to dishearten me, suggesting I give up for I would not manage to bring about any change.  However through several tasks and the great determination of our Permanent Representative Richard Cachia Caruana, such clause was included and set into effect.  For the first time ever such clause is not only included but also fully implemented.  

A couple of days ago I really enjoyed reading that another group of persons has left our country and that such group is off to begin a new life in another state.  To date more than 1,700 persons who had escaped from their own country due to civil war or persecution have been relocated to other countries. This means that such people were taken away from our country and integrated into others by means of a programme of social assistance, education, health, residence and labour.  

A great amount of time and work was dedicated within the Ministry; firstly to strengthen the program we had with the United States that at time was still in its starting days, which nowadays we can say is much stronger; and secondly to ensure that the solidarity clause is implemented fully by all other EU Member States.  I now have the satisfaction to see, that despite the many difficulties, such programs are still in operation.   We can now say that around 1,000 people have gone to the US and another 700 have gone to a country within the EU.   Both our country and such people have benefited from the generosity and solidarity of others.

Our second task during this period of time was linked to the establishment of the European Asylum Support Office.  Malta along with Cyprus and Bulgaria offered their country’s disposal as a location for such office.  It is hard to describe in this article the great amount of work done; however in the end we succeeded in convincing the EU that Malta was the best location for such an office.  Within one meeting, all the members agreed that such office be established in our country.  

As opposed to many other decisions, a clear majority in our favour was immediately established, making this yet another great step for both our country and the EU.  I can still close my eyes and envisage the day when such vote was taken. Those ministers that backed us up and those who had also worked with us towards achieving the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum

The European Asylum Support Office is truly important within the immigration and asylum strategy for Europe.  This Office has several aims, the primary ones being: firstly to develop cooperation amongst the member states regarding asylum by facilitating the exchange of information regarding countries of origin; to provide Member States with support regarding translation, interpretation and the training of officials in the asylum system; and by providing aid with regard to relocation of recognised refugees.  

Secondly: to provide support to those member states that are under ‘particular pressure’ by means of establishing a system of early warning and by the coordination of teams of experts there to assist Member States in the management of asylum applications and in the creation of adequate reception facilities.  

Thirdly, to contribute towards the implementation of   CEAS (Common European Asylum System), by collecting and exchanging information regarding the latest practices, by creating an annual report regarding the asylum situation in the EU and by adopting technical documents as guidelines and adopting operation manuals regarding the implementation of EU asylum instruments.

The European Asylum Support office is already in operation.  Meetings are being held regularly and several people are already employed with such an office. There are two main benefits for us:  firstly, the assistance with regards to problems linked to irregular immigration; secondly, the economic effect it is creating for our country.  It is no wonder I enjoyed being invited for such an occasion. I have worked for both the people and myself, and now I have the satisfaction of establishing and declaring to the people I represent that, we worked extremely well in the immigration sector.  It was a redeeming and fruitful task that does not cause harmful effects.

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