|Name in English||Number of staff||Ministry responsible||Is there any political interference possible by the responsible Minister with the decision making in individual cases by the determining authority?|
|International Protection Agency (IPA)||23||Ministry for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement||Yes|
Malta amended its Refugees Act in August 2020, transforming the Office of the Refugee Commissioner (RefCom) into the International Protection Agency (IPA) without changing its mandate. The IPA is the authority responsible for examining and determining applications for international protection at first instance. The IPA is a specialised authority in the field of asylum. However, it falls under the Ministry also responsible for Police, Immigration, Asylum, Correctional Services and National Security.
The IPA is still far from being able to carry its mission autonomously and, up to the moment, heavily relies on the support provided by European Asylum Support Office (EASO, currently European Union Agency for Asylum). At the end of the year, the IPA had only 5 caseworkers in charge of conducting interviews and 3 officials drafting decisions out of the 23 staff total staff employed. This is less than previous years, in 2020, the IPA employed 28 staff, among them 19 are caseworkers. Out of these, 5 were in charge of drafting decisions on asylum applications.
EASO’s support in asylum application determination amounted to the deployment of 45 staff responsible for examining asylum applications, out of which 17 were conducting interviews and drafting recommendation to the IPA.
In 2019, due to a large increase in sea arrivals, the Maltese authorities requested support from EASO in several areas, including the registration and lodging of applications, the interview and assessment of applications and support to increase the capacity and efficiency of the Dublin Unit. An operational and technical assistance plan was therefore signed on 24 June 2019. Up to 20 staff were deployed, including 8 caseworkers and 8 registration assistants for a period of 6 months.
Given the continued increase in sea arrivals, a new plan for 2020 was signed between Malta and EASO in December 2019. This plan foresaw that EASO would strengthen and increase the support already provided but also add additional support in the field of reception. The new plan included the creation of a Country of Origin Information (COI) unit and support for a quality control mechanism through the deployment of quality control officers and research officers. Additionally, EASO gradually increased support for the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS) in the management of reception capacity/facilities, vulnerability screening and referral and age assessment.
On 11 December 2020, a new operation plan was signed with Malta for the year 2021. It foresaw to strengthen the support already provided and identifies two priority needs to be addressed: firstly, improve the access to the asylum procedure and increase capacity to manage the asylum backlog at first instance determination; secondly, enhance the capacity of the Maltese authorities to implement reception standards in line with the CEAS.
In order to achieve the first objective, EASO continued to support the IPA and AWAS with information provision, screening of vulnerable cases, document analysis, registration, interview, drafting of evaluation reports but also the Agency supported the creation of a Quality Control Unit and a COI Unit. The Quality Control Unit is in charge of checking first instance evaluation reports and, in case a quality issue is noticed, the Unit sends back the report to the caseworker that drafted it for review. EASO also offered support in terms of interpretation and training. These objectives were to be achieved with the deployment of 10 registration personnel and 2 Member States experts, 10 clerical personnel, 2 flow management support officers, 1 document analysis expert, 15 case workers, 3 team leaders, up to 5 Member States experts to complement the case workers and team leaders, 2 Dublin assistants, 2 quality assurance support officers, and 2 COI researchers.
In order to meet the second priority for reception, the Plan foresaw to support AWAS in creating an information provision package, delivering information provision sessions. EASO also supported the national referral mechanism, the identification of vulnerable cases and the age assessment procedure. The Agency also developed guidelines, guidance, SOPs, and any other necessary tool. Training and interpretation were also included in the Plan. In order to achieve these objectives, EASO deployed some personnel, including 5 information providers, 2 quality assurance support officers, 5 information providers, 2 quality assurance support officers and 20 vulnerability assessment officers, 1 or 2 vulnerability focal points, 6 Care Team officers, up to 9 social workers and up to 3 Member States experts on vulnerability assessment, 1 flow management support officer as well as interpreters.
In total, EASO deployed 144 different experts in Malta across asylum and reception-related activities throughout 2021. The majority of them were caseworker assistants (22) and vulnerability assessors (22), followed by caseworkers (17), registration support staff (16) and other support staff (e.g. administrative staff, operations staff, Dublin staff). As of 13 December 2021, there were a total of 70 EASO experts in Malta, mainly caseworker assistants (12), registration support staff (6) and vulnerability assessors (6).
On 16 December 2021, a new plan was agreed for the period 2022-2024. EASO and the Maltese authorities identified the same needs as for the previous plans, namely, improve the access to asylum procedures, manage the case backlog and improve reception conditions in open centres. Assuming that
the number of arrivals will remain similar to those registered in 2021, EASO also foresees it may initiate a phasing out exercise from specific support areas (such as decreasing direct support to asylum processing) towards the end of 2022. For the first 18 to 24 months, the plan foresees the deployment of up to 82 staff. It includes 10 registration and front desk personnel, 15 caseworkers, 9 vulnerability assessment officers, 3 social workers and several quality control support officers and team leaders.
 Article 4 International Protection Act.
 It should be noted that Regulation 2021/2023 entered into force on 19 January 2022, transforming EASO into the EU Agency for Asylum (EUAA). The Agency will be mainly referred to as European Asylum Support Office throughout the report, as its updates refer to 31 December 2021, unless otherwise stated.
 Information provided by the International Protection Agency, March 2022.
 2019 Operational and Technical Assistance Plan Agreed by EASO and Malta, 24 June 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3b8FQ00.
 2020 Operational and Technical Assistance Plan Agreed by EASO and Malta, 12 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3abiYfn.
 EASO, 2021 Operating plan agreed by EASO and Malta, 11 December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3tpXLIW.
 Information provided by EASO, 22 September 2021.
 Information provided by EUAA, 28 February 2022.
 EASO, 2022-2024 Operating plan agreed by EASO and Malta, 16 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3LUHhlJ.
 EASO, 2022-2024 Operating plan agreed by EASO and Malta, 16 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3LUHhlJ, 15-19.