Don’t blur lines between asylum and fight against terrorism
European Voice - 7 October 2004
By David Cronin
THE United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR has warned against using an EU fingerprints database of asylum-seekers for anti-terrorism purposes.
The European Commission plans to publish a paper early next year on how the Eurodac system could be used in anti-terrorist investigations. Since early 2003, Eurodac has stored the fingerprints of all those older than 14 who apply for asylum in the EU. It was designed to prevent applications being made in more than one member state.
"We shouldn’t blur the lines [between asylum and the fight against terrorism]," said UNHCR spokesman Diederik Kramers. "Otherwise a civil administration might as well take the fingerprint of every inhabitant and see if they are a suspected terrorist. There is no reason to single out asylum-seekers for that."
The proposal might, UNHCR warned, "send the wrong message by putting an asylum-seeker in the same bag as a terrorist or a criminal".
The idea of giving access to Eurodac to law-enforcement agencies that are fighting terrorism was mooted in the action plan against terrorism adopted by EU leaders after the 11 March bombings in Madrid.
Commission officials say that they will not seek to end restrictions on Eurodac which confine it to asylum and immigration policy. That would require a change to the legal base of Eurodac. Instead, they are working on an ‘options paper’ designed to advance further debate about the ‘inter-operability’ of EU databases in the field of justice and home affairs, particularly about whether they can be used for anti-terrorist purposes.
One source said that any eventual proposal designed to check criminal records of asylum-seekers would comply with the Geneva Convention, the principal international law on refugee protection. "It is very clear within the Geneva Convention that a person granted asylum must have abstained from crimes. It defines a refugee as a person who is in danger. He cannot be a danger to other people."
UK Conservative MEP Charles Tannock urged a link-up between Eurodac and the databases stored by the police cooperation office Europol. He said that there had been cases in Britain of suspected terrorists entering the country as asylum-seekers. "I am not trying to criminalize asylum-seekers and those who are seeking refugee from persecution. But even if there is a small number [of asylum-seekers who resort to terrorism], there is no reason to take risks with the well-being and security of our citizens."
Sarah Ludford, a Liberal MEP, said she would oppose any move to give Eurodac an anti-terrorist application as it would feed the impression "that migrants import criminality automatically".
Claude Moniquet, from the European Strategic Intelligence Services, said he did not see how taking a measure that could impinge on the rights of asylum-seekers would make terrorist atrocities less likely.
EU foreign ministers will next week (11-12 October) discuss progress made on implementing the anti-terrorist action plan. They are expected to urge Italy and the Czech Republic to ratify the EU arrest warrant, as they are the only member states still not to have done so.