The long-awaited Malta-based European Asylum Support Office was launched yesterday evening with the task of streamlining asylum policies in member states and improving cooperation between authorities.

Describing it as an “important milestone”, European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said the support agency would help significantly reduce the “disparities” and “divergences” in the way member states handle asylum applications.

It would also support EU countries that found themselves under “particular pressures” and would help contribute towards the better implementation of the Common European Asylum System, she said.

The support office became official as Commissioner Malmström, together with the agency’s new executive director Robert Visser and Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, each signed a declaration at the Auberge de Castille in the presence of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

Speaking during an official ceremony at the Upper Barrakka Gardens, Dr Gonzi reminded officials and European representatives that Malta carried a higher burden of asylum seekers than any other state.

“The size of our country, population and, above all, our labour market ensures that we can’t provide a future for more than a few of these deserving people,” he said.

He also expressed his satisfaction that the European Commission had decided to extend the investment by €2.6 million for an additional floor in the building, situated in Marsa, increasing the office space to around 3,700 square metres.

The agency’s launch also sets into action the Seat Agreement, which governs the relationship between the Maltese government and the agency, setting the parameters for how it will be run.

“My government believes that the establishment of the office represents a major development in our attempts to forge a common approach within the Union. As the host country, we look forward to extending all possible assistance to the support office to reach its objective,” he said.

To conclude the ceremony, the official logo of the support agency – its initials set against the EU’s traditional blue background and yellow stars – was unveiled.

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