The European asylum support office could begin work in 2010
20th February 2009: European Commission has proposed creating an agency that would work with national authorities to standardise their practices and make it easier for them to cooperate on asylum.
The Commission noted that asylum requests are dealt with very differently in the 27 EU countries. Figures show that a Chechen, for example, stands a strong chance of being granted asylum in some countries but almost no hope in others. The same is true for Iraqis.
The European asylum support office would foster cooperation between EU countries, help coordinate their often divergent approaches to refugees, run training programmes for national asylum officers and gather information for sharing.
The office would also be tasked with forming teams of national experts to deploy in emergencies such as sudden large influxes of asylum seekers. This could help ease the burden on major gateways like Italy, Malta, Spain and Greece.
The UN refugee agency has expressed support for the proposal, saying it should lead to more consistent, fair and effective asylum systems across Europe.
The EU is trying to build a common asylum policy, but the 27 member countries have yet to agree on who should qualify for protection and how refugees should be treated.
The request to set up the support office came from European justice ministers. It would be paid for from existing funds for refugees and have the status of a regulatory agency. The office could begin work as early as 2010, although its location has yet to be determined.
The EU is a major destination for asylum seekers and received more than 103,000 new applications during the first six months of 2008. Most are from Iraq, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, Somalia, Iran and Serbia. Under international law they have a right to protection, even if they enter the EU illegally.