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30th Jan 2023

EU asylum return focus expands police scrutiny

  • EU asylum database likely to include facial scans and other categories like stateless people. (Photo: EU's attempts)

The EU is kicking off talks to expand the scope of an asylum seeker database in an effort to step up returns of anyone with no legal rights to remain.

EU interior ministers agreed on Friday (9 December) to start talks with the EU parliament on Eurodac in hope of convincing MEPs to have it include other categories like stateless people.

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The decision is part of a broader EU-led trend towards a digital police dragnet against migrants, including children, and others deemed to pose a possible security threat.

The database will also include face scans for police scrutiny. But any expansion of Eurodac, which contains the fingerprints of asylum seekers, is unlikely to affect long standing issues on returns.

Trafficking and modern day slavery

Matthias Ruete, the head of the European Commission's division for internal affairs, told MEPs earlier this week that agreements with other countries to return rejected nationals remain mired in problems.

"Most of the rejected asylum seekers manage to stay in the EU, sometimes also rather in precarious conditions, which leads to the overall debate on the trafficking of human beings, modern day slavery," said Ruete.

Some 60 percent of people caught and issued a return decision never actually leave the EU, despite readmission agreements with their home countries.

The issue has been known for years but little has been done to improve returns despite efforts, noted Reute.

"To be very frank with you, in terms of actual figures, we are hovering around the 40 percent mark [in effective returns], as we were in the last years," he said.

Reute said some consulates had also been advising their nationals on procedures to prolong their stay in the EU, in violation of rules.

Long delays in issuing travel documents have also enabled some undocumented migrants to disappear. Some countries may also require returns to be carried out on their own national airlines, which further complicates the matter.

Without resolving such issues, granting police further access to a database like Eurodac is unlikely to increase any return rates, but rather give law enforcement more powers to screen people who have not convicted, or suspected of convicting, any crime.

17 readmission agreements

The EU has some 17 readmission agreements with countries around the world and is aiming to sign off more in the coming months.

Even where readmission agreements are working, the returns rates remain dismal.

Heads of government and EU states over the summer at the European Council made it clear that readmission and return will be now used as a yardstick to measure partnerships with other countries.

In October, the EU made a deal with Afghanistan to send Afghans back home despite widespread conflict.

They had also started discussions with Nigeria, offering to help raise billions in private funds in exchange for more readmissions and returns.

Similar talks are underway with Ethiopia, Niger, Senegal and Mali with more agreements likely to be discussed at the EU summit next week in Brussels.

Meanwhile, a 2014 readmission agreement with Turkey hasn't worked out as planned. The deal requires Turkey to accept Turkish nationals kicked out of the EU but only around 100 have been returned.

Turkey is also obligated to accept the returns of everyone else that crossed into the EU from the country.

But the so-called "third country national" provision in the agreement is on legislative freeze in Ankara, which has since linked the file to stalled EU visa waivers talks.

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