UK immigration staff safety fears amid migrant fingerprinting
Channel crossings make a great deal of news. However, according to lawyers and campaigners this represents a tiny proportion of people arriving into the UK. Boris Johnson said the following late last year: "We will send you back." "If you come illegally, you are an illegal migrant and, I'm afraid, the law will treat you as such."
The media have exaggerated the situation. What Boris Johnson has said is not entirely. Many people do have a good claim for asylum. While UK visa staff face risks, migrants are putting themselves at great risk in making the dangerous crossing across the channel. UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has ordered UK immigration staff based at the Eurotunnel in Calais to fingerprint migrants attempting to enter the UK illegally.
However, UK immigration staff have expressed fears over their safety, according to BBC Radio 4 documentary series, File on 4. Patel's order comes amid a record number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats to reach the UK, despite the coronavirus pandemic. UK immigration staff reportedly fear being attacked and injured physically when attempting to fingerprint migrants caught trying to enter the country illegally. Lucy Moreton, professional officer at the Immigration Services Union (ISU) - which represents UK Border Force staff - claims that the Home Secretary's order would 'spark violence as migrants attempt to avoid being registered in France.'
Digital fingerprint recorders not available
Ms Moreton said: "Fingerprinting migrants is quite a challenge, especially if they really don't want to have their fingerprints taken.
We don't have digital fingerprint recorders, we only have wet ink. So you have literally got to hold their hands and roll their fingers from side to side to get a print." "That's quite a lot of avenue to fight back if that's what they want to do.
I'm very concerned about the levels of violence that will result and the fact that there will be, eventually, staff and migrants injured," Ms Moreton added. Commenting on the order, the Home Office said that a record of migrant fingerprints could assist in efforts to return people to France - in accordance with a European Law known as the Dublin Regulation - should a person successfully cross into the UK at a later stage.
Migrants previously fingerprinted
Up until 2010, when the process was abandoned, all migrants at the Port of Calais were fingerprinted by UK Border Force Agents. Shortly after, the practice ceased at the Eurotunnel in Coquelles.
Ms Moreton recounts how the practice previously resulted in physical violence, with UK Visa and Immigration staff and migrants subsequently injured. The professional officer at the ISU said: "Some migrants were so determined to avoid being fingerprinted, they would self-harm, doing damage to their fingerprints and making them impossible to take. This is not something we want to see people doing."
After speaking to some of the hundreds of migrants sleeping on the streets of Calais during the coronavirus lockdown, BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme said conditions for migrants had become 'unbearable', and this was their motivation for risking their lives to cross the Channel and reach the UK.
More than a 1,000 migrants cross the Channel
Since the implementation of lockdown measures in the UK in March, more than 1,000 migrants have crossed the Channel in small boats, according to Home Office records. In the week commencing 6 June, a record 166 people reached Britain's shores by small boat on a single day. The Home Office estimates that the number of illegal migrants reaching the UK by sea has already exceeded numbers for the whole of 2019, despite Priti Patel pledging - last September - to make small boat crossings an "infrequent phenomenon by Spring 2020."
The BBC was told by the Home Office that people fleeing persecution should remain in the first safe country that they enter, saying "there's no reason why migrants need to make an often dangerous trip" to claim asylum. The Home Office added that the UK Border Force has robust risk assessments in place to minimise the risk of harm to both migrants and officers. However, according to a report published by The Times, fingerprinting was temporarily halted at Calais on 8 June after a migrant 'had to' be pinned to the ground for almost half an hour.
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