The European Ombudsman European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights will examine practices by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) at “hotspots” (reception centers) in Greece. The move comes in response to a complaint about the inadmissibility decisions taken under the EU-Turkey agreement. The complaint was filed by ECCHR with the support of German charity organization Brot für die Welt in April 2017. On 1 June the Ombudsman declared the complaint admissible.
According to the EU-Turkey statement of 18 March 2016, “[a]ll new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey”. Admissibility interviews form the cornerstone of the administrative procedures: If an asylum claim is rejected as inadmissible, Turkey must, under this arrangement, readmit the person concerned.
The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) is the agency that conducts the interviews and recommends a decision to the Greek Asylum Service. Thereby, it plays a decisive role in the assessment of the (in)admissibility of applications for international protection. ECCHR has serious concerns as to the legality and legitimacy of EASO’s actions in the context of the EU-Turkey statement.
Case Report: EASO’s influence on inadmissibility decisions exceeds the agency’s competence and disregards fundamental rights
EASO fails core legal standards
The Ombudsman is an independent institution tasked with holding the EU administration to account for failures to respect fundamental rights or legal principles. The complaint argues that EASO’s role in the decision-making process amounts to maladministration and asks the European Ombudsman to open an inquiry. ECCHR requests the suspension of EASO’s involvement in admissibility interviews and the limitation of its activities to conduct not in breach of EU law.
EASO was established in 2010 with the mandate to support Member States in providing international protection. In 2016 the agency deployed numerous experts to the Greek Hotspots in order to assist with the “extraordinary measures” stipulated in the EU-Turkey statement. EASO officers conduct interviews and recommend a decision to the Greek Asylum Service, who in practice rely on EASO’s recommendation without posing any questions to the applicant themselves.
ECCHR’s analysis: EASO officers fail to respect core standards of fairness
According to ECCHR’s analysis of a series of admissibility interviews conducted on the Greek Islands, EASO officers fail to respect core standards of fairness. The interviews do not permit a fair assessment of individual cases, they do not give room for a thorough investigation of vulnerability and they lack a critical evaluation as to whether Turkey qualifies as a safe third country for the person concerned.
Thereby EASO not only violates its own guidelines for conducting interviews, but its involvement in the procedure goes beyond the scope of its powers under EU law. Consequently, applicants for international protection are deprived of a fair hearing and denied the chance to present and substantiate their asylum case.