DNA and asylum seekers

This article is from observer.guardian.co.uk (the online version of two of the major broadsheet newspapers).  Apparently, Sir Alec Jeffreys, one of the scientists who pioneered DNA, is none too impressed.  Sir Alec’s response will be added in a separate post.  Along this topic, New Zealand does not routinely collect and store DNA results on a national database.  The number of DNA profiles in databases of varying sorts, such as the one to which the following article refers, is increasing around the world.  Presumably, NZ will eventually follow suit?

DNA tests for asylum seekers ‘deeply flawed’ (Jamie Doward, 20 September 2009)

Asylum seekers are to be subjected to DNA tests in an attempt to confirm their true nationalities.  The UK Borders Agency believes this will help limit bogus asylum claims made by people arriving in the UK and pretending to have fled war zones so they cannot be deported. But the “Human Prevalence Pilot Project”, which is being launched as a pilot and without fanfare, has been fiercely criticised by migrant support groups who describe it as “deeply flawed”.

According to the Home Office, the scheme will involve taking “forensic samples provided on a voluntary basis from those suspected of abusing the asylum system”. At first, the six-month pilot will target claimants arriving from the Horn of Africa.  The Borders Agency has been concerned for some time that Kenyans pass themselves off as Somalis in the hope of gaining asylum.  But the project could be expanded to other nationalities if successful, a Home Office spokeswoman confirmed. At first it will be used only on those who fail language analysis testing, which has been used for years to determine the country of origin, but is open to legal dispute.

Refugee support groups expressed fury. They are concerned about how DNA testing will work and whether it will be able to distinguish legitimately between the profiles of the many nomadic peoples from eastern Africa.  “It is regrettable that this pilot has been introduced without consultation, as there are obvious pitfalls in trying to prove nationality genetically,” said Caroline Slocock, of Refugee and Migrant Justice. She said it “would lead to serious miscarriages of justice”.

Sandy Buchan, of Refugee Action, said: “Many of those who seek asylum are two or even three generations removed from the country of origin of their parents and grandparents, and are fleeing areas other than the nation of their birth. A Zimbabwean farmer fleeing persecution may possess the DNA of British relatives; would they be denied asylum on that basis?”  The Home Office spokeswoman said ancestral DNA testing would not be used alone but would be combined with language analysis, investigative interviewing techniques and other recognised forensic disciplines.


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