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Eurodac: Austria dismisses fundamental concerns over coercive fingerprinting of six-year-olds
- Letter from human rights organisations offered cursory reply
- Council proposals for Eurodac database would see all Member States introduce "administrative sanctions including the possibility to use menas of coercion... for non-compliance with providing biometric data"

10.1.18
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The European Commission's May 2016 proposal to revamp the Eurodac database includes provisions that would lower the age of fingerprinting for children from 14 to six and permit the use of coercion by national officials to take fingerprints or facial images "in duly justified circumstances that are permitted under national law."

Currently Eurodac holds the fingerprints of all asylum-seekers in the EU. Under the May 2016 proposal it would be expanded to include facial images and to cover irregular migrants as well.

See: Proposal for a Regulation on the establishment of 'Eurodac' (4 May 2016, COM(2016) 272 final, pdf)

In December 2017 the presidents of civil society organisations EuroMed Rights the European Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AEDH) wrote to Member States' representatives in the Council of the EU calling on them to oppose the lowered age for fingerprinting and the provisions on taking fingerprints and photos by force, arguing that "oercion of children in any kind of form is never acceptable," and:

"Both in the political and legislative discourse, we witness an emerging trend of criminalisation of asylum-seekers and migrants. Lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure that the rights and protection of human beings, especially children, comes first."

See the civil society letter: Re: Trilogue meeting on the Reform of the Common European Asylum System (EURODAC) (1 December 2017, pdf)

The response from the Austrian delegation, which Statewatch is publishing here, shows no willingness to back down from supporting the provisions in question. After citing Austria's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and quoting, at length, the European Commission's explanatory statement on the May 2016, the letter closes by saying:

"Let me stress that the proposal is still under negotiation in the co-decision procedure and Austria will contribute to the discussions in a manner that the principle of best interests of the child remains a primary consideration within the European legislative procedure."

See the Austrian letter: Trilogue meeting on the Reform of the Common European Asylum System (EURODAC) (20 December 2017, pdf)

A large number of Member States have not replied to the AEDH/EuroMed Rights letter - which does not bode well for anyone who would prefer that children not to be forced into giving their fingerprints and photographs in order to implement EU migration and asylum law.

UPDATE (10.1.18): The most recent version of the proposed text produced by the Council shows that the possibility of using coercion to take fingerprints and photographs remains key - and that Member States will be obliged to introduce "administrative sanctions including the possibility to use means of coercion, in accordance with their national law, for non-compliance with providing biometric data."

See: NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on the establishment of 'Eurodac' (14570/17, LIMITE, 12 December 2017, pdf)

Recital 30:

"Where a Member State's national law allows for the taking of fingerprints by force or coercion as a last resort, those measures must fully respect the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Third-country nationals or stateless persons who are deemed to be vulnerable persons and minors should not be coerced into giving their fingerprints or facial image, except in duly justified circumstances that are permitted under national law. In this context, detention should only be used as a means of last resort in order to determine or verify a third-country national's or stateless person's identity."

Article 2 - Obligation to take biometric data

"1. Member States are obliged to take biometric data...

2. Taking biometric data [...] of minors from the age of six shall be carried out in a child-friendly and child-sensitive manner by officials trained specifically to enrol minor's fingerprints and to capture facial images [...]... At all times Member States must respect the dignity and physical integrity of the minor during the fingerprinting procedure and when capturing a facial image.

3. Member States shall […] introduce administrative sanctions including the possibility to use means of coercion, in accordance with their national law, for non-compliance with providing biometric data […] in accordance with paragraph 1 of this Article. These sanctions shall be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. […]

(...)

5. The procedure for taking biometric data […] shall be determined and applied in accordance with the national practice of the Member State concerned and in accordance with the safeguards laid down in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child."

Further reading

MED-CRISIS: COMPULSORY FINGER PRINTING OF MIGRANTS (Statewatch News Online, July 2015): including the current European Commission guidance on the issue of forced fingerprinting.

Fingerprinting by force: secret discussions on "systematic identification" of migrants and asylum seekers (Statewatch News Online, March 2015)

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