Chair of the General Directors Immigration
Services Conference (GDISC); Director General of
the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service
‘Key objectives and activities of the GDISC’
Ü Eurasylum: The General Directors Immigration Services Conference (GDISC) was established in 2004 with a view to initiating, co-ordinating and improving practical co-operation among Immigration Services responsible for the implementation of migration and asylum issues in Europe. Current members of the GDISC include all 27 EU Member States, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Norway, Turkey and Switzerland. Can you guide us through the key aims, activities and modus operandi of your organisation?
Ü Peter Veld: During the Dutch Presidency of the European Union, in July 2004, the Netherlands hosted a conference on Immigration Services Together in the New Europe in Rotterdam. The conference was attended by the General Directors of the 27 European Immigration Services. During this conference, we together concluded that a network for the General Directors of the European Immigration Services should be established and that there was real added value in face-to-face contact with our European counterparts on a regular basis. The name GDISC (General Directors Immigration Services Conference) was chosen as the name for our new network and we agreed that we should meet every year.
To summarise the key aims of the GDISC Network, our primary focus is to take forward and promote operational co-operation between the Immigration Services responsible for the implementation of migration and asylum issues in Europe. We, as an organisation, aim to provide a flexible response to changing migration patterns across the European continent. We employ a number of differing ways to achieve this, namely by means of formal projects, Conferences and High Level Working Groups, and by undertaking comparison benchmarking exercises. Our key focus is Asylum, Managed Migration, Management of Immigration Services and most recently, we have started a project which looks to tackle some of the issues related to illegal migration and crime. In terms of our modus operandi, I feel this is enhanced by our informal status. This allows us to be very flexible and adapt to changing migration priorities and react quickly, if needed. To help us coordinate our work and plan effectively we have a Steering Group, currently made up of the General Directors from the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The Steering Group meets twice a year, discusses, initiates and evaluates all aspects of our network, including decisions on our funding. We also work closely with The European Commission (EC) who we invite to our meetings and who acts as an observer. We also hold annual meetings with the EC to discuss our current and future work priorities.
We have an International Secretariat which is responsible for the implementation of the GDISC work plan and, as such, plays an active role in all GDISC activities. The Secretariat is also in place to assist any GDISC member who wants to propose a project or may need additional information on an ongoing project or a scheduled meeting. The Secretariat ensures that any project proposal is taken forward to the next Steering Group or Annual Meeting and properly considered for action by GDISC members. The Netherlands IND has hosted the Secretariat since 2004 and it is currently made up of staff from Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
One key advantage of having an informal network is that we can bring together General Directors and Directors of Asylum and Managed Migration to exchange their practical and operational experiences. In this sense we are unique, as we are able to provide a platform for those working across the field of migration to mix with their peers, face to face in an informal environment. We know this is greatly appreciated by our members and can be a very productive environment for encouraging cooperation and the sharing of ideas.
Ü Eurasylum: Under the UK Presidency of the EU in 2005 it was agreed that the GDISC would hold bi-annual strategic meetings with the EU Presidency and the Director for Asylum, Immigration and Borders of the Europeran Commission to liaise on matters of practical co-operation in the implementation of asylum and managed migration policy. The GDISC would further cooperate with the European Commission on matters related to capacity building in the field of immigration and asylum in the Candidate Countries. Can you discuss the nature and areas of the GDISC’s contribution to EU immigration and asylum policy, and provide some examples of recent EC Projects implemented by your organisation?
Ü Peter Veld: During the past three years the co-operation between GDISC and the EC has intensified and it is our ambition that this co-operation will grow even closer in the future. In addition to our annual strategic meetings, the EC is also invited to attend other GDISC meetings and is able to provide input to the work we undertake.
Being a network for General Directors responsible for implementing asylum and other migration policies, GDISC is ideally placed to address some of the important issues in the field of asylum and immigration. GDISC was given the opportunity to respond to the Green Paper on the future Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and I, as the Chair of GDISC, was given the opportunity to present GDISC’s response during the European Commission Public Hearing. This was a very valuable opportunity as it enabled me to present the GDISC network and our projects to a wider audience.
Our network aims to respond to changing asylum and migration objectives, and as such, we welcome the debate around the creation of a European Support Office (ESO) responsible for co-coordinating all the practical cooperation in the asylum system among the Member States. We are excited by the opportunity to act as a partner with the European Commission in exploring the options available in its creation. However, it must be stressed that an intensive connection between policy and implementation is necessary to achieve this. All of this is closely linked to the agenda of the European Commission and the Justice and Home Affairs Council. During the informal JHA Council Meeting in Slovenia in January 2008, it became clear that there is an increased support for the GDISC network at a ministerial level.
Creating an integrated practical approach to dealing with the issues of asylum and migration is one of the core values and key objectives of our network. We look forward to further and closer co-operation with the EC in realising the objectives set out in the Green Paper. Capacity building is an important tool to create structural improvement of Immigration Services. During the previous years, capacity building was mainly focused on providing operational assistance to accession countries; today the focus has shifted to a more permanent improvement of both quality and professionalism.
Currently GDISC and its partners are working on capacity building and technical support to the Ukrainian authorities to effectively respond to irregular transit migration. This ambitious project will provide a comprehensive and complementary approach to migration management support in the Ukraine. We, as a network, are also exploring a capacity building project in Bosnia and Herzegovina and work into this continues.
Over the last few years, GDISC has set up various projects which aim to address some of the issues outlined in the Green Paper on CEAS. Firstly, for staff members of immigration services in Europe, who are engaged in dealing with asylum applications, GDISC has set up the European Asylum Curriculum (EAC). The EAC is based on the European Union Acquis and International Law and with this project we will create, for the first time, a training toolbox which contains all necessary skills and knowledge to accurately process asylum cases. This project will ensure that staff members throughout Europe are trained in the same way and accordingly contribute to the realisation of a Common European Asylum System.
GDISC is also supporting Member States joint efforts to address Particular Pressures, for example by implementing the GDISC Interpreters Pool Project. This project aims to increase the capacity of interpreters of countries facing a shortage of resources by sharing interpreters capacity by means of videoconferencing equipment.
Since our creation back in 2004, the EC has been very supportive of the GDISC Network and its projects. Looking ahead, the EC remains an important partner and GDISC will continue to work closely on all aspects of our work to ensure that practical co-operation in the field of Asylum and Migration has long term stability.
Ü Eurasylum: Over the last few months, the GDISC has released various comments on the EC Communication on Circular Migration and the EC Green Paper on the Common European Asylum System, and has organised two conferences on Managed Migration. It has also published a major study on Workforce flows within the EU and labour migration from outside the EU. Can you discuss some of the current policy priorities in the field of EU immigration and asylum among your member Immigration Services?
Ü Peter Veld: Whilst generally we do not focus on policy matters and instead look to promote closer practical working across national and international governments, we are at the same time charged with transferring policy into business rules and implementing operational strategies to achieve policy objectives. This is a challenge that all GDISC Immigration Services share in common and of course the policy priorities on both a national and international level influences our work to a great extent.
Asylum issues remain high on the political agenda of both GDISC country’s governments and the European Commission, especially the harmonisation of the asylum system. Our asylum related projects reflect our willingness to assist in this process by moving this agenda forward on a practical level. This said, over recent years, the views of society and politicians have changed. What many of our GDISC members countries are experiencing is a shift to a move towards introducing policies and practices that look to manage overall inward migration in a much more effective and controlled way.
This shift in focus is reflected again in our priorities and work plan. GDISC has two High Level Working Groups working on managed migration issues and we also organise a Managed Migration Conference for operational Directors working in this area. One of our working groups focuses on practical issues in building modern managed migration organisations and our second working group looks at the wider issues related to overall managed migration. These working groups have instigated a number of benchmarking studies including a study into Intra-European Workforce Flows aimed at analysing the impact of enlargement and the respective transitional regimes on intra-European work force flows, and at identifying main trends and developments in this respect. These studies are an important part of our work and although sometimes very ambitious, they are always well received and appreciated by all GDISC member countries.
In 2008, the GDISC network will, for the first time, focus some of its efforts in a new direction. This focus will be on the topic of migration and crime, which is increasingly of great relevance and importance across Europe as a whole. GDISC will implement a project in partnership with the Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees and the Bulgarian Migration Directorate of the Ministry of Interior. The project will be made up of two component parts. The first will be a comparative benchmark study focusing on illegal migration, human trafficking and inter-agency co-operation in combating these issues both on an international and national level. The second aspect of the project will be a conference held in Sofia, Bulgaria in June, where all stakeholders will be invited to discuss the outcomes of the study and discuss practical solutions.
We are hopeful that the benchmarking of the differing processes will identity gaps in specific areas where closer practical cooperation by Immigration Services may be possible to assist in the combat against migration and crime. We would also propose to establish what is the best practice across Europe in this field and present this to all member countries.
My primary inspiration is to bring together the first management level that is responsible for the implementation of laws and policies. They do the job in practice.