In this edition of Expertise, expert Blanca Sánchez Goyenechea, Head of Special Procedures Unit, Sub-Directorate General for International Protection at the Spanish Ministry of Interior, recently deployed to take part in the Peru IV Action, discusses the need for knowledge exchange among government officials and inter-regional cooperation on asylum.
In your opinion, what are the main advantages of knowledge-sharing programmes between public officials, such as MIEUX?
As civil servants in an administration - be it local, regional or state - our work as public employees is generally confined to a specific field of action. This implies that we sometimes lose perspective on issues affecting public management at more than one level. However, most issues of relevance today require a much broader approach to find new solutions to recurring problems, not only at our level of work but also outside our country. The management of migration flows and the establishment of procedures that guarantee the granting of refugee status to those who are suffering persecution within the scope of the 1951 Geneva Convention are, without a doubt, two of the main challenges faced by administrations on all continents and at all levels.
In this sense, participating as an expert in the MIEUX programme is a perfect opportunity to set aside this partial view of the problems and, through the active exchange of experiences and the establishment of contact points between officials from different Administrations, contexts and latitudes, learn from the successes and mistakes of those who have already had to face such challenges.
Professionally, what has your participation in this programme brought you?
Participating in meetings with the main actors involved in Peru's asylum policy has given me first-hand knowledge of the problems they face, not unlike the one we are experiencing in Spain with the exponential increase in requests for international protection in recent years, as well as the solutions that the Peruvian authorities are proposing for the short, medium and long term.
On the other hand, I have found it very interesting to expose the Spanish practice to an audience that, in principle, is alien to it. Their questions, appreciations or comments are often related to aspects of the system that are taken for granted by those of us who work with the subject on a daily basis when perhaps it would also be advisable to stop and reflect on them.
Finally, from the meetings and the seminar has emerged the will to collaborate on points of common interest, such as the exchange of country of origin information.
Of all that you saw during your stay with the Peruvian authorities, what impressed you most about how they are managing the flows of Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers?
Personally, I was very struck by the fact that such a large number of asylum applications are received every day and yet they are able to identify the most vulnerable profiles in order to grant them refugee status as soon as possible. This is certainly influenced by the professional quality of the team in the Executive Secretariat of the Special Commission for Refugees, and the variety of interesting profiles - psychologists, translators, lawyers specialised in international law... - but also by their pragmatic vision which implies managing a sudden increase in migration flows while safeguarding the welfare and specific needs of applicants [of international protection].
How can the lessons learned by the Spanish Administration be extrapolated to the Peruvian context?
Some of the main concerns expressed by the Peruvian Administration revolve around the arrival of asylum seekers by air, the absence of a clear and guaranteed procedure for deciding on their application before allowing them to enter the country and the lack of space at the Lima International Airport for them to remain throughout the process.
In this sense, the investigation of asylum requests presented at border posts by applicants who do not meet the requirements for entry into the country is a procedure that is provided for in Spanish legislation and that, from an administrative point of view, can be perfectly incorporated into the Peruvian asylum system. In addition, the construction of a new terminal at Lima airport represents an enormous opportunity to incorporate suitable reception facilities for applicants while deciding on the admission of their applications for processing and, therefore, their regular entry into the country.
On the other hand, the Spanish experiences accrued in the Autonomous City of Melilla, which is located on the land border between Spain and Morocco, may be useful for Peru’s border post with Colombia, especially in matters such as DNA testing to establish the certain genetic filiation link of minors and their relatives beyond doubt or the early detection of victims of trafficking in human beings.
The inter-regional dimension in the management of migratory flows is increasingly relevant, how important is it for international protection issues?
In the case of international protection, this inter-regional dimension also plays a fundamental role. At the end of the day, we are talking about human displacements in which the location of an applicant's place of origin rarely prevents the applicant from moving to another continent through several transit countries. Furthermore, in this type of meeting between officials, one becomes fully aware that the general problems and difficulties posed by the management of asylum policy in one Administration are very similar to those of the rest, without ignoring the particularities and idiosyncrasies of each State. Unfortunately, however, we are still far from seriously considering integrated management of this issue at the regional level, much less at the inter-regional level.
What first steps could be taken or what measures would be necessary to advance towards integrated management of international protection at the regional or inter-regional level?
In my view, progress in the comprehensive management of international protection at the regional or inter-regional level would require greater approximation in the criteria for processing applications and the benefits associated with the status of asylum-seeker or refugee. In this way, people in need of protection would not opt for one country of refuge or another depending on which offered them greater possibilities of obtaining a favourable resolution or of maintaining themselves economically during the examination of their case. On the other hand, it would be advisable to strengthen cooperation with those countries that, due to their geographical specificities, are subject to strong migratory pressures, either as a result of a sudden situation ( such as the influx of Venezuelans in Peru) or as a result of more structural issues (Spain, Italy or Greece). These approaches are present in the European Union and they should be discussed during this new political term, which demonstrates that, if there is a genuine will to implement collaborative policies on migration, it should not be seen as a utopia.