Frontex, Europol and EASO: these European agencies play a central role in the EU’s border regime and asylum system. But what happens when these agencies do not conform to human rights standards? In its work with asylum seekers at Hotspots on Greek islands, EASO (European Asylum Support Office) for example has violated fundamental standards for asylum interviews and overstepped its competences under European law. ECCHR documented and criticized these issues in a complaint submitted to the European Ombudsperson in April 2017.
However, EASO is not held accountable for these abuses. This is the final response from April 2019 of the European Ombudsperson to a complaint against EASO filed by ECCHR in 2017. In her response, the ombudsperson acknowledged serious concerns but nevertheless decided to close the inquiry into EASO.
Refugees and migrants who arrive in a Hotspot (an initial reception center) in Greece must apply for asylum there. People from countries with a high rate of asylum approval, such as Syria, must go through a preliminary assessment of whether or not they are allowed to apply for asylum. If it is found that Turkey would be a safe third country for them, the asylum application is deemed inadmissible, as set out in the EU-Turkey statement of March 2016.
These admissibility interviews are carried out prior to the actual asylum procedure. As the agency responsible for conducting the interviews, EASO thus wields significant influence on the decisions. EASO’s admissibility interviews frequently result in asylum applicants being denied a fair hearing and careful consideration of their individual case and need for protection.
ECCHR had urged the ombudsperson to make an explicit finding on past wrongdoing of EASO and to issue recommendations for the future. The EU agency should not operate in a vacuum of accountability, especially when it concerns the lives of vulnerable individuals.
The EU agency EASO was established in 2010 in order to support the EU Member States to give 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. Thereby, EASO oversteps its powers under EU law.