Fingerprint database to check EU asylum claims


The authorities will soon be able to check instantly with a Europe-wide fingerprint database to see if newly arrived asylum-seekers have already made claims in other EU countries.

The Eurodac database, which comes online from the middle of next month, will allow refugee authorities to check the fingerprints of newly arrived asylum-seekers against records in other EU states.

If asylum-seekers have already made a claim in another EU country, they could be returned to have their claim dealt with there.

The centralised electronic fingerprint register is aimed at helping to stamp out immigration fraud and "asylum shopping", where people make applications for refugee status in more than one EU country.

The compulsory fingerprinting of asylum applicants aged 14 and over was introduced in Ireland in November 2000, but the Eurodac database which allows exchange of the prints will only go live in mid-January. Asylum applicants are fingerprinted when they lodge their claim for recognition as refugees fleeing persecution at the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner in Dublin's Lower Mount Street.

The Refugee Applications Commissioner, Ms Berenice O'Neill, said the new system will allow a search for matching fingerprints in other EU states within hours.

She said: "It's a two-way process. It will enable us to see if people have claimed asylum in another country or have been found to be illegally in another country ... The central exchange of fingerprints is just another means of identifying those who have been in other countries and doing so more quickly and readily."

Immigration gardaí currently fingerprint asylum applicants who make their claims at ports and airports, but say about 25 per cent of people who come through ports do not subsequently pursue their claims at the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.

Fingerprints taken for asylum purposes are not used for criminal purposes and the asylum-seekers database is "fire-walled" from the Garda's criminal database.

Ms O'Neill said she would also like to see the fingerprinting of asylum applicants under 14 years for their own protection as she has concerns about child trafficking.

The Refugee Applications Commissioner had piloted bone-density testing to determine the age of some applicants whose claim to be minors was doubted. Ms O'Neill said they had now decided to carry out an age test based on dental x-rays instead, and the Department of Health is checking whether this conforms to its protocols.

Dental checks are considered to be the most accurate tests, but if cases were marginal the applicant would be treated as a minor, she added.

Separated children are allocated shared accommodation and there were fears that problems could arise if adults claiming to be minors were inappropriately placed in accommodation with children. "It's there as a protection for young children and an opportunity for people who we don't believe to prove they are under 18. Accommodation with young children would be the main concern. It's really the integrity of the process," said Ms O'Neill.