Forced Fingerprinting of Asylum Seekers at Channel Ports

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A proposed policy which would allow force to be used by UK Border Force staff for fingerprinting asylum seekers at French ports has been criticised by both unions and charities. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has been warned about the potentially violent consequences of the move.

The plan by the Home Office is an attempt to make it easier to remove people from the UK who subsequently cross the channel. This is because the UK authorities would have proof that an asylum seeker had previously been in France and should arguably have claimed asylum elsewhere.

Priti Patel has been warned about the potentially violent consequences of the move

Fingerprinting by force is not illegal in the UK and British Border Force staff could have legitimate powers to carry out the practice at its French based Channel checkpoints. 

A similar measure was ditched in 2012 following violent incidents involving officers when some refugees slashed, burned or put glue on their own fingertips to stop their prints being taken. 

Lucy Moreton from the Immigration Services Union, which represents border officials, remembers the incidents well. ‘It was horrible,’ she says, ‘We do not want to see a repeat of that. And of course, if you force people to give fingerprints in that way, they are going to fight back.’

In a separate interview last year she was quoted as saying, ‘Officers are not equipped with digital fingerprint recorders. All we have is ink. So we have to literally hold their hands and press their fingers from one side to the other to get a correct print.’

‘That’s quite a lot of avenue to fight back if that’s what they want to do. I’m very concerned about the levels of violence that will result and the fact that there will be, eventually, staff and migrants injured.’

forced fingerprinting of asylum seekers
Concern over risk of violence and harm over forced fingerprinting [Image: O. Pash Shutterstock]

The refugee charity Choose Love has grave concerns about the use of force to take fingerprints at Channel ports. It says Priti Patel’s department could find itself in murky waters from a legal standpoint and that there is clear precedent that shows that forced fingerprinting can lead to serious violence. 

Another refugee charity pointed out that forcibly fingerprinting vulnerable asylum seekers risks retraumatizing them. 

Forcibly fingerprinting vulnerable asylum seekers risks retraumatizing them

Nonetheless, parliament looks soon set to vote on a return to the policy which the Home Office says will provide crucial evidence in rejecting the claims of asylum seekers.

Chris Philp is a government minister with responsibilities for immigration control. He disputes the argument that forced fingerprinting could lead to violence. 

“We don’t agree with this claim,” he said. “Trained Border Force officers would always first seek compliance by engaging with the individual, explaining the requirement to comply and encouraging the individual to do so.

“Reasonable force would only be used as a last resort, where an individual repeatedly refuses to comply.”

France has not expressed any intention to introduce a similar policy of enforced fingerprinting at its checkpoints along the Channel. 

Header image: Africa Studio Shutterstock