Fingerprinting migrants in France: the back story

by Chris Bertram on August 8, 2013

The big item on this morning’s UK news (Guardian, BBC) is a report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, that is highly critical of the UK Border Force. Large sections of the report have been redacted, leading opposition politicians, such as Labour’s Chris Bryant, to accuse Home Secretary Theresa May and Immigration Minister Mark Harper of a “cover up”. What struck me about the report, though, was the basic failure in reporting by the news media, such that the ordinary reader or listener would really not understand the back story.

From the BBC report:

But inspectors found UK officials at Calais had stopped taking photographs and fingerprints of illegal immigrants in 2010 because of problems with the availability of cells to hold people in. This was also later stopped at Coquelles. Mr Vine said: “Gathering biometric information such as fingerprints could assist the decision-making process if these individuals were ultimately successful in reaching the UK and went on to claim asylum.”

The reporting follows the UK Home Office in stigmatizing people as “illegal” in advance of any judicial process, but it also fails to explain the background in the Dublin Regulation that states that people can only claim asylum in the first EU country they enter. This means that states in northern Europe, such as the UK, can disclaim responsibility for people fleeing persecution, just so long as they can show that the asylum seekers were previously present in another member state. This adds to armoury of extra-territorial checks (fines on carriers etc) that make it impossible for asylum seekers to reach the UK legally. Since most asylum seekers enter the EU through southern Europe (many dying in leaky boats in the Mediterranean), the Dublin Regulation effectively assigns responsibility to those states least able to cope (partly because of the Eurozone crisis) and where racism, xenophobia and violence towards foreigners is most marked. (There are regular horror stories about the suffering of asylum seekers in Greece.) A progressive policy would both recognize our humanitarian obligations towards refugees and put in place a mechanism for sharing that responsibility fairly across all EU member states. Unfortunately, rather than campaigning for such a policy, politicians of the “left” in northern Europe, like Bryant, use episodes like this to make a noise about “controlling our borders”.



Foppe 08.08.13 at 7:34 am

It is indeed quite easy to forget about/turn a blind eye to institutionalized unfairness.. Who, after all, would dare suggest that there is room for ‘more immigrants’, when the economy is doing so badly, and when there is such a fantastic opportunity of making the ‘government’ seem like it’s being run by authoritarian incompetents? The risk/reward scheme says no, and talking politics is so passé — tinkering is all one should aim for.


bimmered 08.08.13 at 7:43 am

I wonder why nowadays we use the terms “redact” and “redacted”, when in fact we mean “rendered illegible upon publication”, or even “censor” and “censored”. I’m not suggesting that, in modern usage, “redact” cannot signify such – it clearly does. However, could it be argued that “redact”, in this usage, is a euphemism for “censor”, and it might be as well, in the current post-Snowden climate, to note that, and even to dare to call a spade a spade?


Foppe 08.08.13 at 1:13 pm

Similar in importance, it seems to me, is this story about how ‘civil’ asset forfeiture is being used by US police forces around the country to supplement their budgets..


LFC 08.10.13 at 2:44 pm

Btw why does Vine refer to people “[going] on to claim asylum” in the UK? Presumably he knows about the Dublin Regulation.


gordon 08.14.13 at 11:49 pm

“A progressive policy would both recognize our humanitarian obligations towards refugees and put in place a mechanism for sharing that responsibility fairly across all EU member states”.

Actually, a progressive policy would be based on knowledge of why people are fleeing their homelands and include progressive actions to help them stay home in less oppressive conditions. No more invasions and air strikes would be a good start. And “all EU member States” could participate in programmes to render African States better places to live. Yes, it will cost money.


Ronan(rf) 08.15.13 at 3:50 pm

Interesting as well to look at the affect border controls have had on immigrant numbers in the US


LFC 08.15.13 at 4:04 pm

And “all EU member States” could participate in programmes to render African States better places to live. Yes, it will cost money.

The EU and many of its member states do this already to a certain extent, though more could/should be done (not that the current economic sit. in the EU is v. conducive to increases in development assistance). Btw the linked BBC piece in the OP on the asylum problem in Greece was worth a look.


LFC 08.15.13 at 4:10 pm

Also, as I understand it people seeking asylum must claim to be fleeing political or religious or some other persecution; they can’t simply be economic migrants (at least they must make a case that they aren’t simply that). See the example of the young man in the linked BBC piece who says he ‘can’t’ live in — was it Morocco?, I forget, I read it several days ago — b/c he’s not Muslim.


gordon 08.16.13 at 1:12 am

LFC, I’m not thinking so much about conventional “foreign aid”, a model of State-to-State assistance which has terrible flaws, mostly corruption. I think more about, say, EU-funded, EU-run and EU-staffed institutions which are lacking or defective in many African States. That would include schools and hospitals, perhaps for starters. The EU sets them up, then takes on local trainees, say as nurses’ assistants, teachers’ assistants, junior clerks etc. Over time, these institutions could expand into nurse training, teacher training, administration training, still under the supervision of EU staff. Other institutions, say police, judiciary, agricultural extension, city/town management etc. could follow the same basic pattern over time.

That is a long-term strategy, extending long beyond the lifetime of anybody now living. But so is foreign aid. Of course, the politics are hard, many African elites would refuse such offers which include no payoffs to them. They would be branded “colonialist”, and in a way they are. But unless some way is found to make African States more liveable the refugee problem will continue without any foreseeable end.

Comments on this entry are closed.