Today, six months since the start of implementation of the pilots projects for fast asylum and return procedures, the Commission is reporting on the good progress made by Bulgaria and Romania. Overall, solid results have been achieved with best practices identified in the area of accelerated asylum procedures and effective returns, border management and reinforced cooperation with neighbouring countries.
As a follow-up to the letter sent by President von der Leyen to Member States in January, and the European Council conclusions of February 2023, these two pilot projects were set up in March 2023 by Romania and Bulgaria, with the support of the European Commission and relevant EU agencies.
Pilot Project in Bulgaria
In the area of asylum, Bulgaria conducted trainings to facilitate the implementation of the asylum accelerated procedures provided for in the Asylum Procedures Directive. Bulgaria also drew up a list with designated safe countries of origin and safe third countries and increased the number of deployments by the EUAA.
Bulgaria is in the process of amending its legislation, to allow for the issuing of a negative decision on international protection jointly with a return decision. The Bulgarian authorities are also working on the digitalisation of the asylum and return systems with the support of the EU agencies and the Commission. Bulgaria has stepped up the cooperation with Frontex, with the implementation of a roadmap providing Bulgaria with additional resources, including Standing Corps and technical equipment for border management. Moreover, Bulgaria is implementing a Frontex Mobile Operational Support Team for combating cross-border Crime. Bulgaria signed with Frontex a dedicated Action Plan on Returns, which has led to an increase in return counselling services.
A new Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration scheme will be implemented as of early 2024, with increased financial incentives. Bulgaria has strengthened its cooperation with Europol to fight smuggling networks and to limit secondary movements within the EU, including the establishment of an Operational Task Force.
Pilot Project in Romania
Romania amended its asylum legislation in May, allowing for the issuing of negative decisions on international protection together with a return decision. This has contributed to a more efficient return process. Romania has also tested the accelerated procedure in an enhanced manner which led to the swift processing of asylum claims. Romanian authorities further strengthened the cooperation with the EUAA, on the basis of the Operational Plan. EUAA experts can now fully participate in the registration and assessment of asylum applications.
When it comes to border management and international cooperation, Romania continued managing its external borders with Serbia successfully. Based on activities for prevention of irregular migration with the Serbian authorities, more than 400 joint patrol missions and ad hoc patrols were carried out since the start of the pilot in March. Frontex Standing Corps are present using Mobile Surveillance Vehicles at the Romanian – Serbian border section of the Terra 2023 operational area.
Furthermore, Romania has been liaising bilaterally with Member States through the High-Level Network on Returns and with Frontex on good practices on returns, notably return counselling. Romania fully participates in the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats (EMPACT) and in Operational Task Forces set up to fight against criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling.
To further capitalise on the positive achievements so far, it was agreed to continue cooperation within the framework of the pilot projects, with regular Steering Committees to monitor the implementation and efficiency of new measures put in place in this context.
The Commission decided in June to reinforce the border capabilities of Bulgaria and Romania for surveillance along their borders, through additional funding: EUR 45 million and EUR 10,8 million, respectively. It represents a top-up to the programmes of these countries under the Instrument for Financial Support for Border Management and Visa Policy (BMVI). Ensuring effective control of the EU’s external borders is a priority for the Commission, having already allocated to the Member States’ Programmes EUR 4,3 billion (BMVI), alongside EUR 6,3 billion for migration management (Asylum Migration and Integration Fund) under the current Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027.
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