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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Development: EU Aid to be Used for Fingerprinting

Aid traditionally reserved for keeping victims of war and disasters alive may now be used for security-related projects such as the fingerprinting of refugees, European Union officials have decided. Although the European Commission's humanitarian office (ECHO) regularly publishes statements detailing how much food, medicines or blankets it gives to people in distress, it has drawn no attention to a widening in the scope of its activities in recent years. Through a partnership with the United Nations' Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the office has been financing the development of a computer system designed to store the fingerprints and other biometric data of refugees.  An internal ECHO paper from September 2009 suggests that support for such activities is necessary as part of an 'innovative' approach towards improving the response of international agencies to crises. But civil liberties activists are perturbed that humanitarian aid is being used to extend fingerprinting, a technique universally associated with criminal investigations, to refugee management projects. 'If the EU wants to finance security projects, it should be doing so from money earmarked for security projects (rather than from humanitarian aid),' Ben Hayes from the organisation Statewatch told IPS. Through a project known as Profile, the UNHCR has registered the fingerprints of more than 2.5 million refugees in some 20 countries since 2004. This project has received some four million euros (six million dollars) from the humanitarian aid section of the EU's budget. As well as taking fingerprints, the UNHCR has stored images of the eyes of Afghan refugees who were returning to their home country after fleeing to neighbouring Pakistan. Identity documents are issued to refugees as part of the project, in cooperation with the governments in the countries where the refugees are located.

Source: Global Issues