On 18th December all civil society members of EASO's Consultative Forum received a letter from Dr. Visser, EASO Executive Director (downloadable from the above picture). The letter invites us all to indicate our interest in sharing expertise, "in the form of suggestions on relevant documents, provision of qualitative data and participation in selected expert meetings", in the following 3 key themes:
- Unaccompanied Minors (age assessment and family tracing);
- EASO Training Curriculum (through the Reference Group);
- EASO Early warning and Preparedness System (EPS).
The letter seems to be a response to repeated criticism that EASO has not yet been able to effectively and strategically engage civil society in its activities, that such engagement has so far really meant a somewhat poor civil society participation at the Agency's annual Consultative Forum Plenary meetings and also a more technical participation at expert meetings and workshops organised throughout the year.
Although it's certainly a positive step in the direction of closer involvement of civil society in EASO's work, the letter has confused many who received it. With little publicly available information on what has actually been happening in the three identified themes, in substantive terms, many organisations seem to be unclear as to what is being actually requested. In particular, we've been asked the following main queries (as if aditus foundation were a branch of EASO!):
- "Doesn't EASO already know our areas of expertise and interest, since upon registration with the Consultative Forum we had clearly identified them?"
- "Isn't difficult to relate to the 'Reference Group', when we really don't know what the group is, who's on it, what it does, and since we've never even seen any of the training modules?"
- "What about the other areas of relevance to CEAS, will there be no consultation on these?"
For us this remains the single most valid justification to keep us somehow engaged, as without this engagement we would not be in a position to influence - or to at least try to influence - the Agency's activities and to introduce an element of balance to the apparently unfettered control exercised by the MS through the Agency's Management Board.
We're also not sure what will come out of Visser's letter. We would like it to lead to greater openness, in the true spirit of transparency and accountability.
We would like it to mean more accurate data collection on national laws, policies and practices, possibly facilitating the Commission's monitoring role.
We would like it to result in civil society organisations having access to the training modules, to NGOs playing an active role in the formulation and implementation of Operating Plans, to reception conditions, asylum procedures and protection statuses being in line with international human rights standards.
If you haven't received the letter, contact the Consultative Forum to see how you can also participate in this exercise.