5th Dec 2023

Fingerprint identification system operational

The European Union will clamp down on false asylum claims with the launch on Wednesday of a new Eurodac system to track asylum seekers and illegal immigrants through their fingerprint records.

The move coincides with calls earlier this week from the Greek government for other EU countries to share the burden of any influx of refugees possibly resulting from a war in Iraq. But the 6.5 million euro Eurodac system, has been criticised by human rights groups for taking the wrong approach to Europe's immigration problems and for applying to refugees as young as fourteen.

Central unit in Luxembourg

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From Wednesday, the 15 EU member states plus Norway and Iceland, will fingerprint all new asylum seekers and illegal immigrants and submit the data to a central unit in Luxembourg.

UK Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, described the new rules as "a valuable resource to tackle multiple asylum applications and deter asylum shopping." An estimated 10 - 20% of aslyum seekers are believed to make claims in more than one European country.

If Eurodac shows that an applicant's fingerprints have already been recorded, the asylum seeker will be sent back to the country where the information was originally gathered. However, its success cannot be measured for at least six months as the rules are not retroactive.

Dublin Convention

The new measures will help determine which country is responsible for looking after asylum seekers under the rules of the so-called Dublin Convention.

The Dublin Convention, due to be updated in June this year, regulates where a refugee has the right to claim asylum and which state is responsible for processing the application. Within the EU, a refugee's first state of entry currently has this responsibility for one year and anyone caught leaving the country within that period will be returned.

Human rights organisations such as the Refugee Council in the UK believe the EU is tackling asylum policy in the wrong way. The Council's spokesman, Richard Williams, said that it viewed the Dublin Convention as "unprincipled and unworkable." The organisation claims that less than 5% of asylum seekers have been returned to their state of entry under the current procedures.

"We want to see a system that is not based on control measures such as Eurodac, but a shared system of international responsibility that is fair to all European countries and takes into account people's links to a particular country," he said.

Contravenes the UN Convention on the rights of the child

Ben Hayes from the civil rights NGO, Statewatch, criticised the decision to extend the legislation to refugees as young as fourteen.

"We believe this contravenes the UN Convention on the rights of the child," he said. Statewatch is also concerned that following the events of 11 September, international intelligence agencies will be given unbridled access to sensitive information.

The European Commission insists, however, that the information will have limited access and be regulated by strict data protection laws. In addition, the data will not contain personal details but rely only on biometric comparison.

Euro-MP, Claude Moraes, the former Director of the Joint Council for the welfare of immigrants, warned that the system should not be abused by the participating countries. "There is a fine dividing line between the detection of fraud and the use of the information to infringe civil liberties. The proof of the pudding will come over the next weeks and months," he said.

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