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Interview: EU asylum system ‘will boost burden sharing’ - Malmström

Repatriation talks with Egypt, Tunisia

The introduction of a common asylum system in the EU would encourage more member states to accept the responsibility of burden sharing and to offer to resettle more refugees from countries like Malta, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström said yesterday.

She said that although “Malta expected more”, the common system would be “a positive step in the right direction” and that with it in place, “it is only fair to assume that they will take on a greater responsibility”.

Ms Malmström was speaking to The Times at Dar l-Ewropa, the European Commission representation in Malta, shortly after inaugurating the European Asylum Support Office in Marsa, the first European agency being hosted by Malta. One of the tasks of the office is to improve the implementation of the Common European Asylum System.

Malta has been lobbying long and hard for the EU to relieve it of the burden of migrants from North Africa, which it maintains are too numerous for the island to cope with in relation to its size and resources. Other EU states have recently pledged to resettle about 350 of the thousands of refugees living here.

Asked whether she believed that the burden sharing concept in Europe was really working, Ms Malstrom replied: “Yes and no”.

She said the 350 people were part of an exercise and an expression of European solidarity. “I know that Malta hoped for more but this was the beginning.

“Since the May 14 (pledging) conference, more states are promising to release the pressure on Malta. There is no way that the Commission can force member states to take refugees. The only thing we can do is encourage them.

“I think having a common asylum system where all countries are capable of receiving people in accordance with international standards is a way to encourage all countries to take a responsibility.

“Today 10 countries take 90 per cent of all asylum seekers, so that leaves 17 which could do more. If we have a common system it will increase the burden sharing,” she said.

The Commissioner said she was aware of the “enormous pressure on Malta” but there were other countries that were getting an influx too, adding that last year, 263,000 people asked for asylum in Europe.

She said it was difficult to predict whether the 350 asylum seekers to be resettled in other European states would grow in number.

“All I can say is that this is just the beginning. This is why we need a common asylum system in place where people are treated fairly and given a good transparent evaluation of their case. If they can stay, fine, they can go into a system of integration but if they cannot we have to have a way to quickly send them back in dignified form.”

She said initial talks had already started with the Egyptian and Tunisian authorities to see how both sides could cooperate in the whole field of migration including fighting trafficking and smuggling of irregular migrants and return policies as well as ways to facilitate legal migration. “We are calling it a mobility partnership.” Morocco and, eventually Libya, will be next in line.

On the Asylum Support Office inaugurated yesterday, Ms Malmström said it was intended to support member states in the implementation of asylum policies, to help them in training, education, and the sharing of information and best practices.

She said the office, to which €40 million has been devoted until 2013, will offer training to people processing asylum applications and can help “to a certain extent” on relocation and resettlement. It will work very closely with Frontex, the EU’s border agency.

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