Fingerprinting is one of the most commonly used ways of identifying asylum-seekers when they enter the European Union. Wesley Dockery reports on how the EU shares fingerprinting data and how the data is used to determine where a migrant can apply for asylum.
The EU registers fingerprints of asylum-seekers in a system called the EURODAC. The system, which was established in 2003, helps determine which EU member state is responsible for processing the application of an asylum seeker. According to the Dublin Regulation, the first country that an asylum seeker entered is ultimately responsible for an individual’s asylum application. When an asylum seeker enters this first country, their fingerprints are taken and even though they might have entered another country later, the fingerprints remain in the EU-wide EURODAC system that can tell authorities what the first country of entry was. The system is hosted by the European Commission in Brussels.
The fingerprints can also tell whether an asylum-seeker illegally transited through another EU member state. If an asylum-seeker winds up in another EU country than that where they originally had their finger prints taken, they may be sent back to their original country of entry.
First point of entry
For example: a migrant enters the EU via Italy. His fingerprints are taken there. It will be very difficult for him to seek asylum in another EU country as Italy is where he is now registered. If he leaves Italy and applies for asylum in Austria or Germany, he will get his fingerprints taken again. The authorities in those countries can then look in the database and see that the asylum seeker originally arrived in Italy, which means the asylum-seeker would have to return to Italy to apply for asylum.
The fingerprints are stored in the EURODAC database for ten years. If the individual claims citizenship in one of the EU member states, the data is then erased. It can also be erased if the individual receives a residence permit or has left the EU.
Another point to mention is that fingerprinting is mandatory for all asylum-seekers over the age of 14 in all EU countries. The non-EU member states Norway, Iceland and Switzerland also take part in the EURODAC fingerprinting system. If the asylum-seeker does not comply to get his or her fingerprint, they might be detained.
New methods of identification
After the influx of migrants into the EU beginning in 2015, the European Commission put forward guidelines in May 2016 to improve EURODAC and introduce new methods to biometrically identify asylum seekers. They suggested that not only should authorities take fingerprints of those enter the EU, they should also have biometric facial images of the asylum seeker. They also suggested lowering the age of those whose fingerprints can be taken to 6 years old.