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1st Mar 2024

EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints

  • Police in member states may be allowed to use coercion against 14 year-old kids who refuse to give fingerprints (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)

Children aged 14 or over may be forced with coercion into giving up their fingerprints, under EU reforms currently being discussed. But resistance against using such force appears to be mounting within the EU parliament.

The move is part of a broader 'Eurodac' law, which collects and gathers the biometrics of asylum seekers and refugees. It includes, among other things, allowing police to use physical or psychological force against anyone at least 14 years old who refuses to give up their prints.

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With a draft deal on Eurodac soon expected among the EU negotiating institutions, not everyone is happy with the plan to include coercion into the reforms.

The EU parliament and the member states kicked off talks earlier this year after reaching respective positions, based on an EU commission proposal that included a restricted use of coercion "as last resort".

But Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, a centre-right Swedish MEP, told EUobserver she is trying to amend the legislative to remove coercion from the text because "violence should not be used against minors from any law enforcement authority in Europe."

Corazza Bildt co-chairs an EU parliament intergroup on children's rights.

She is also a minority in her own political group, the EPP, against the use of coercion. Like the EPP, the conservative ECR also widely support coercion.

The socialist S&D, the Greens, and the far-left GUE oppose. The position is less clear among the liberal ALDE.

Corazza Bildt maintains fingerprints are needed to protect minors who often go missing. She notes that children that refuse prints instead need civil society support to make them understand it is for their own protection.

"Sometimes a child is scared and doesn't know why we want to take a fingerprint," she said.

Europol, the EU police agency, has previously estimated some 10,000 migrant and refugee children have gone missing. Many are feared to have disappeared or be exploited by criminal networks and traffickers.

Sweden estimates around 1,736 unaccompanied children went missing between 2014 and 2017. Over 5,800 are thought missing in Italy.

Coercion undefined

The head of migration at Missing Children Europe, an NGO, Federica Toscano, said other problems are also involved.

She noted the word "coercion", which is included in the legislative text, has no definition and that neither the European Court of Justice nor the European Court of Human Rights can offer any jurisprudence or interpretations.

It means the word could mean anything from the use of physical force to psychological pressure.

"It is so wide, it is extremely dangerous because it means that member state authorities would be able to interpret this term," she told EUobserver.

She also noted that most member states do not allow the use of force or coercion for asylum-seekers, posing questions on why the EU is seeking to impose legislation that appears to condone violence.

The age cut off date is also important given that some view teenagers as somehow more resilient to pressure than the very young. But Toscano says such arguments are based on assumptions and not on international rights.

"It [coercion] is against international children's rights and against the values that we have as the European Union," she said.

The EU's own Fundamental Right Agency, based out of Vienna, made similar arguments.

In an report in 2016, it noted that the use of physical or psychological force to obtain fingerprints risks violating the fundamental right to human dignity and integrity. It said articles on torture, degrading treatment, and the right to liberty and security, are also at risk.

"This is particularly the case for children and other vulnerable persons, such as suspected victims of torture, sexual or gender-based violence, victims of other serious crimes, or traumatised people," it said.

A draft agreement between the EU states and the EU parliament is expected sometime later this month or in April. Over 15,500 unaccompanied minors arrived in Italy in 2017. Another 3,300 are thought to be in Greece.

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