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UK Home Office fails to collect asylum seeker biometrics, sits on report

UK Home Office fails to collect asylum seeker biometrics, sits on report

The failure to collect fingerprints or face biometrics from asylum seekers and illegal migrants who then absconded in their hundreds is included in a damning report on the Home Office’s handling of the migrant crisis in the UK.

David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), inspected the initial processing of migrants – the vast majority being asylum seekers – arriving in small boats at two landing points in Dover, Kent, England, in December 2021 and January 2022. He submitted his findings in February, but the Home Office has delayed publication until today, the last day before Parliament rises for its summer recess, when it released its response.

Much of his report looks at poor conditions and lack of safeguarding, as did another inspection by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, covered in UK media such as The Independent and The Times, here we look at the biometrics elements.

“Data, the lifeblood of decision-making, is inexcusably awful,” comments Neal. “Equipment to carry out security checks is often first-generation and unreliable. Biometrics, such as taking fingerprints and photographs, are not always recorded.”

Some of the equipment used was 20 years old.

Migrants are often housed on arrival in ‘secure hotels’ while their cases are supposedly reviewed.

“The Home Office told our inspectors that 227 migrants had absconded from secure hotels between September 2021 and January 2022, and not all had been biometrically enrolled. Over a five-week period alone, 57 migrants had absconded – two-thirds of whom had not had their fingerprints and photographs taken.”

This is despite them having already been in the UK for an average of 16 days by the time they absconded.

An implication of failing to identify those who had been illegally trafficked, beyond the failures in safeguarding, was the loss of potential intelligence for tackling the trafficking: “Put simply, if we don’t have a record of people coming into the country, then we do not know who is threatened or who is threatening.”

Neal advised that Home Office staff be trained in the operation of Biometric Recording Stations (camera and fingerprint scanner connected to a laptop), a recommendation accepted by the department. Before the stations became available to staff in mid December, they were using handheld devices which could only scan fingerprints to search databases rather than enroll them.

This recommendation was intended to be activated within one month of his report. “There remains work to do to, but much of this Report is now of a historic character and the criticisms identified reflect processes and procedures not now followed under the new operation,” notes the delayed Home Office response. It did however accept all recommendations.

The report coincides with the department publishing its policy vision for increased biometrics for legal migration.

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