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European Parliament votes yes on controversial Asylum and Migration Pact

European Parliament votes yes on controversial Asylum and Migration Pact
 

Today, the European parliament voted to adopt the contentious Asylum and Migration Pact, which includes reforms to the EURODAC biometric database and how biometrics are collected from minors. The president of the European parliament, Roberta Metsola, followed the vote with a simple statement: “History made.”

In a press briefing on the controversial pact this week, a group of EU rapporteurs from parliament said the pact is three and a half years in the making, the result of “difficult and heavy work”. Although today’s vote on the pact is not binding, the text has variously been called a symbolic landmark, a necessary step forward, and a “shipwreck for asylum rights,” with critics expressing particular concern about the collection of biometric data from children as young as seven.

The pact aims to enhance security screening and registry at borders, and to expedite processes for those who are denied asylum. But harsh critics say it will result in draconian asylum policies and practices being into use. In the context of the proposed reform of the EU’s EURODAC asylum database, biometrics and facial recognition are at the center of the debate.

“Reform of this 20-year-old database will make it the technological sword of EU’s hostile asylum and border policies,” says a harsh critique in the EU Observer. “It will harness the most nefarious surveillance technologies that exist to date – namely the capture, processing and analysis of biometric data – and enable EU states to have full control over migrants’ bodies and movements.”

“EURODAC is also being turned into a mass surveillance tool by targeting even more groups of people than before — including children as young as six.”

The EU rapporteurs acknowledge that the pact is imperfect, citing massive complexity and compromise in arriving at a text acceptable for all EU member states. Some say it is undeniably a step forward, and lament the work that would be lost if the pact were to be rejected. Others call it a chance to implement a more humane common system. As to the question of collecting biometrics from minors, proponents of the bill say gathering biometric data from kids can help reunite them with family members.

Spanish MEP Jorge Buxade Villalba argues that “the European Union is a human organization, and we need updated data, accurate data, so that it does not just come down to the opinion of an international organization that is not a part of the EU or what a certain member state believes that the numbers are. Also, facial recognition images will assist us in understanding those who have fake or bogus documents when member states are requesting a clarification of this information.”

It is clear that there is high political tension around the vote, as the detention and death of migrants haunts the EU’s border policies, and global conflicts cause continued displacement. There are those arguing that voting for the package is being loyal to Europe, and others who argue the same for voting no. The vote on the Asylum and Migration Pact is in, but the debate over technological deployments at Europe’s borders will surely continue.

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