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Brussels, 18 February 2009

Setting up of European Asylum Support Office proposed by the Commission

The Commission today adopted a proposal for a Regulation to establish a European Asylum Support Office. This proposal is presented under the Pact on Immigration and Asylum in response to a request by the European Council. What is proposed is the speedy establishment of an operational agency to coordinate and step up cooperation on asylum between Member States, so helping to harmonise different national practices. The Office will also help to align existing asylum rules in the EU.

Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot, responsible for freedom, security and justice, said: "We are actively working to put in place the Common European Asylum System. In this context, it is essential that we align not only our laws but also our practices. The asylum authorities of the Member States have crucial need of material support for their day-to-day operational requirements. Support teams deployed by the Office will also help to find solutions to emergency situations, such as a mass influx of asylum seekers."

Current practice in the implementation of the right of asylum illustrates the fact that there are major differences in the way Member States deal with applications for international protection. For example, an Iraqi has a 71% chance of obtaining protection in one Member State but only a 2% chance in another. The Policy Plan on Asylum adopted by the Commission in June 2008 proposed an ambitious extension and overhaul of European legislation on asylum. This work is in progress but needs to be underpinned by a stepping-up of administrative cooperation between the Member States with a view to aligning national practices.

The Office will support Member States in their efforts to implement a more consistent and fairer asylum policy, for example by helping to identify good practices, organising training at European level and improving access to accurate information on countries of origin. It will also be responsible for coordinating support teams made up of national experts that will be deployed at the request of Member States faced with a mass influx of asylum seekers into their territory. It will also provide scientific and technical assistance for the development of asylum policy and legislation.

The Office will be set up in the form of an agency, an independent European body. The Commission and the Member States will be represented on the Management Board, which will be the Office's governing body. The Office will work closely with the authorities responsible for asylum in the Member States and with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There will also be a Consultative Forum for dialogue with civil society organisations.

If the proposal is adopted quickly, the Office could be up and running by 2010. Its headquarters will be established in an EU Member State by decision of the Heads of State and Government.

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