13 March 2015

Statewatch revealed this week that the European Commission and Member States are discussing “best practices” to ensure that the fingerprints of asylum seekers and irregular migrants are taken and recorded in the Eurodac database. This database enables the functioning of the Dublin Regulation, which establishes a hierarchy of criteria for identifying the Member State responsible for the examination of an asylum claim lodged in and EU country.

In October 2014, the Commission drafted a confidential “non-paper” providing ten steps to ensure that fingerprints are taken.

The Commission underlines that, where these procedures exist, asylum seekers should be informed that, if they refuse to cooperate in being fingerprinted, their request for international protection may be subject to an accelerated procedure. The paper also points out that asylum seekers refusing to be fingerprinted can be detained so as to ascertain their identity. Furthermore, if they do not cooperate, after having been informed about the possibility that force could be used to take their fingerprints, “officials trained in the proportionate use of coercion may apply the minimum level of coercion required”. The document notes that “Member States may consider that it is never appropriate to use coercion to compel the fingerprinting of certain vulnerable persons, such as minors or pregnant women.” But it follows that “if some degree of coercion is used for vulnerable persons it must be ensured that the procedure used is specifically adapted to such persons.”

The ‘non-paper’ is based on the feedback of Member States to a survey enquiring about their practices on this issue. The answers show that the majority of states do not allow for the use of coercive measures to fingerprint applicants of international protection. With respect to people who crossed the border irregularly, or that are present in the territory without proper documentation, half of the reporting states said that the responsible authorities can use coercive measures. In Austria and Norway, the use of force requires “a specific administrative decision”, while in Bulgaria “the authorisation of a judicial authority”. In five countries (Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, Norway, Austria) people can be detained if they do not cooperate to provide their fingerprints, whilst in two other states people can be fined. The summary of Member States’ feedback also notes that “the refusal to cooperate may render the [asylum] application unsuccessful, either because it would be examined under the accelerated procedure as manifestly unfounded (Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania), or because it would be deemed as withdrawn (Ireland) or because it would not be possible to continue to process it (Hungary, Netherlands)”.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 13 March 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.