A migrant climbs the fence near the Eurotunnel in France. (Archive). Credit: Picture-alliance/PAWire/Y.Mok
A migrant climbs the fence near the Eurotunnel in France. (Archive). Credit: Picture-alliance/PAWire/Y.Mok

The British Home Office requires its border police officers in the Calais region of France to fingerprint migrants intercepted trying to cross the English Channel. The aim is to be able to deport them more easily if they manage to reach England.

The practice had been abandoned years ago, but British border police officers must now again fingerprint migrants trying to cross into England by boarding Eurotunnel trains at the Coquelles terminal near Calais.

This decision by the Home Office, the British equivalent of the interior ministry, aims to facilitate the return of migrants who succeed in crossing the Channel to France. Under the Dublin Regulation, an asylum seeker has to lodge their application in the first European country they enter.

Lucy Moreton, Secretary General of the UIS, a British trade union representing frontline border police officers, is concerned about the violence that can result from this practice. "It's a real challenge, especially if migrants don't want their fingerprints taken," she told the BBC on June 9.

"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," she explained, expressing fear that migrants would refuse to let themselves be taken in for fear of being 'dublined' and stuck in France.

Before 2010, when this practice was still in use at the Port of Calais, there were many violent incidents "injuring both agents and migrants", according to Moreton. Many migrants also did not hesitate to "deliberately injure themselves in order to avoid having their fingerprints taken," she said. Some applied a mixture of glue and chemicals to their fingertips, while others burned the tips of their fingers.

Moreton stressed that anyone fleeing persecution and war is obliged to stay in the first safe country they enter. "There is no reason to undertake this often dangerous journey [to seek asylum in the UK]," she said. She added that the border police had carried out risk assessments to minimize the dangers to both its officers and to migrants.

'A factory for undocumented migrants'

"Taking fingerprints won't stop humans from passing. It's just a factory for undocumented migrants," Utopia 56's Gaël Manzi told InfoMigrants. "This will put additional pressure on migrants and allow [the British authorities] to send them back with impunity without them being able to apply for asylum."

Utopia 56 and several other organizations working with migrants have been campaigning for years for a reform of the Dublin Regulation but also for a repeal of the Treaty of Touquet. That text, adopted in 2003 and extended in 2018, provides for the strengthening of border controls and has made it possible to move the British border from Dover in the United Kingdom to Calais in France.

Reintroducing fingerprinting in Coquelles is all the more pointless, Manzi argues, as migrants nowadays more frequently opt to cross the English Channel in small canoes. "There are so many walls and barbed wire that have been erected along the roads that truck crossings are becoming increasingly difficult and rare," she said.  

Since the imposition of lockdown measures in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 1,000 migrants have managed to cross the English Channel from the French coast in makeshift canoes. Last week, a record 166 migrants were apprehended by British authorities in a single day.

According to official estimates, the number of Channel crossings since the beginning of the year has already exceeded the total of those recorded during all of 2019. The British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, promised last year that Channel crossings would become "a rare phenomenon" by spring 2020.


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