Entities sharing this good practice: Bundesamt für Fremdenwesen und Asyl /Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum (BFA) within the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI)
Submitted by: UNHCR Austria
Partners: UNHCR Austria
Visit their website: Project Bridge – UNHCR Austria
In Austria, the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum (Bundesamt für Fremdenwesen und Asyl, BFA) is the first instance asylum authority responsible for adjudicating applications for international protection.
In March 2020, the Austrian government announced a series of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, which included a lockdown as well as health and safety protocols and i.a. resulted in limitations of public offices.
As part of its measures to contain COVID-19 without delaying asylum procedures, the BFA started conducting more refugee status determination (RSD) interviews remotely by video.
To observe this new approach while ensuring fair asylum proceedings and upon UNHCR´s request the BFA enabled UNHCR Austria to attend and observe remote interviews and provided UNHCR with extensive information on the procedural steps pre and after remote interviews. Due to this collaboration UNHCR Austria explored possibilities of support, aimed at maintaining safeguards, standards and quality of remote RSD interviews and court hearings.
This informed the development of a tool (see below) within the framework of the “Project Bridge”- a quality assurance project run by UNHCR Austria, and co-financed by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) of the E.U. and the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI).
The tool “self-check on remote interviewing” (in German), offers guidance and support for adjudicators and judges conducting interviews and hearings in the Austrian asylum procedure by video and ensures the safeguarding of procedural standards and the quality of RSD interviews and hearings. This includes for instance the targeted selection of suitable cases and ensuring confidentiality as well as adequate secure and reliable transmission. The tool was published and shared with legal aid practitioners and interpreters who also play a crucial role in remote interviews.
Impact of the good practice
The long-standing cooperation with the asylum authority in the framework of the quality assurance project not only was helpful to get an insight into their practice and help inform the development of the tool but, it also allowed UNHCR to organize within a short period of time virtual training sessions for case workers based on the checklist and facilitated discussion and exchange on this practice and the standards to be upheld.
UNHCR Austria will offer “on-the-job-trainings” for case workers of the Austrian asylum authority. Upon request of interested case workers, trained UNHCR staff members will attend remote interviews and provide feedback based on the self-check.