African travellers to be fingerprinted at UK airports

Visitors to the UK from five east African countries and those travelling on refugee documents issued by other countries will have to provide fingerprint data before they enter the UK, the Home Office announced today.

The move is part of a drive to tackle "unfounded asylum claims" from Somali nationals and "fraudulent claims" by individuals claiming to be Somalis, the Home Office say. It also represents the next step in the roll-out of biometric technology to tackle immigration abuse.

From March, visa applicants from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda will be required to provide a record of their fingerprints when applying for a visa.

The Home Office said that a "significant proportion" of asylum seekers who claim to be from Somalia were in fact from other east African countries. The department quoted a "recent pilot language analysis exercise" which suggested that 10% of all 'Somali' claimants were fraudulent.

The latest quarterly asylum statistics, quoted by the Home Office, showed a 60% increase in asylum applications from individuals claiming to be Somali, despite no significant change in the circumstances in the country. The government believes that some of these claims have been made by people from other east African countries or from Somalis who have already been granted asylum elsewhere in Europe.

High-tech biometrics can help identify people who have entered the country legitimately then destroy their travel documents to claim asylum in a false identity, or make it more difficult to remove them if their asylum claim is refused, the Home Office said.

Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, said: "We know that a significant proportion of asylum seekers claiming to be Somali are actually from neighbouring east African countries.

"Together with the roll-out of specialist language analysis, recording the fingerprints of visa applicants from this region is part of a concerted government strategy to cut fraudulent asylum applications from this region.

"Dealing with those who are abusing the system is vital to build public trust and confidence in our immigration and asylum policies, so we can welcome those who have a legal right to be here."

The east African biometric visa initiative follows a "successful" pilot to record the fingerprints of those applying for visas from Sri Lanka. Since the initial six-month project started in July 2003, the Home Office said that seven undocumented asylum applicants, who destroyed their passports after entering the UK, were identified.


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