Monday, October 15, 2012

EASO's 2nd Consultative Forum: where is Civil Society?

Some days ago the European Asylum Support Office announced the organisation of its 2nd Consultative Forum.  A a quick refresher, the founding Regulation requires EASO to engage in dialogue with those members of civil society that are active in the area of asylum.  'Civil society' is here to be interpreted widely to include NGOs, academic institutions and networks, trade unions and other entities that feel they can contribute to the work of the EU's asylum agency.  

To see all earlier posts relating to the Forum, especially those commenting on its first gathering (December 2011), you can use our post tags to search the blog (or just click here).

So, the 2nd meeting will be held in Valletta (Malta) on 25th and 26th November.  On the 25th there will be an informal dinner, followed by a full day session that will follow the agenda (in draft form here.)

As with last year's meeting, only those organisations registered with EASO are eligible to attend.  We recently caught a glimpse of the registered organisations and, to be totally honest, it's a very sad sight!  Some MS aren't even represented on the list!

We've been having a discussion with several entities, including EASO itself, on how to further engage civil society in the Agency's workings.  Several considerations emerge from the discussion, yet it looks like the key issue revolves around the question: Why bother?  

Why should busy NGOs, already stretched to their limits, frustrated at the short-comings in the EU's efforts at truly protecting asylum-seekers and refugees, engage with an Agency that seems to be essentially run by the 27 MS? What difference could it make? Why bother?

We think this remains EASO's main challenge, and unless tackled immediately runs the risk of being the primary cause of civil society alienation from the Agency. It is not a challenge that can or should be ignored.  

To date, the Agency's performance in terms of civil society dialogue has been far from great. Last year, during the first Forum meeting, we were presented with the 2012 Work Programme when this was already discussed, finalised, adopted and sealed. 

A few months ago, the first Annual Report was published.  On the basis of the Regulation's provisions, we all thought this would be a comprehensive document that looked at the state of asylum in the EU and gave us all - including the EU institutions - a clear understanding of where we really stand.  Some of us provided NGO reports to try to ensure a more objective and fair picture. It looks like NGO reports were not given much least ours wasn't!  

Yet given the Agency's young age, many NGOs thought it best to limit criticism and instead to recommend alternative strategies, to suggest improvements.  So we asked for a timetable of operational dates, a timetable in which NGO input could be a manner that would be relevant to the Agency before finalising key documents as the Work Programme and the Annual Report. 

But then we see that the 2013 Work Programme has already been discussed, finalised, adopted and sealed. And we still don't quite know how we fit in the Agency's systems.  

So really, why should we bother? Why do we, as a Malta-based NGO, actually bother?

Ultimately, because it's now or never. The way we see it, timing is crucial.  We either manage to get into the system and do our best to change and improve it when it is still being shaped and formed, or before we know it we will have a full-functioning system with which we simply cannot function.  

If we want our expertise to be taken seriously...on children, LGBTI claims, procedural issues, detention, entitlements, gender, housing, access to territory...then now is the time to tell EASO that we do have the expertise and that we expect it to be taken into account.  

So go on, register with EASO and tell it what you have to offer.  It's a free no-strings-attached there's really no excuse!  Go to EASO's site, About us, and scroll all the way down for instructions.

We hope to see you in Malta!

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