French biometric system leading to detention of unaccompanied minors – report

facial-recognition-database

Concern is growing among aid groups in France over the increasing use of a national biometric identification system which is leading to the erroneous detention of unaccompanied child migrants, reports InfoMigrants.

Changes to the law in January 2019 mean that young migrants have to present themselves to the prefecture-level authorities which is akin to national level, before being evaluated by a social worker. This appointment was part of an assessment which determined the young person’s age.

A migrant designated as a minor would receive support from the state. An adult could face detention and then deportation.

An increasing number of French districts are now using the AEM (Support for the Evaluation of Minority) biometric system rather that the local social worker approach. The system takes the young person’s fingerprints and facial photograph and verifies any identity documents.

This biometric record is then cross-referenced with two other databases containing the biometrics of foreigners.

According to InfoMigrants, as of September 2020, 73 French departments (districts) out of 101 were already using AEM and 11,000 young people had been registered nationally.

“We have begun to see unaccompanied minors in detention after their visit to the prefecture, even before any social assessment [has been made],” Violaine Husson, head of gender and protection issues NGO Cimade, is quoted as saying.

The use of biometrics was to remain optional for departments. But a June 2020 decree introduced fines for departments not using AEM, something certain departments are branding ‘financial blackmail,’ according to the report.

Organizations which work with migrants are concerned that the biometric check will become automatic, following its inclusion in a new bill presented in June and in another government scheme.

They raise concerns such as the fact minors have to have adult documents to cross certain borders. They therefore attain fake credentials to cross, which can mean they appear in certain databases as adults.

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