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All illegal immigrants to be fingerprinted

The new fingerprint system will log anyone trying to enter the country illegally Keystone

Anyone caught trying to enter Switzerland illegally from June 1 will be fingerprinted and the information stored on a national database.

This content was published on May 12, 2004 - 16:57

On Wednesday the government announced it was closing a loophole that has enabled some illegal immigrants to slip through the net.

Up until now, only those without a valid passport or identity card have had their prints taken.

But from next month, fingerprinting is being extended to anyone who does not have the correct entry visa – whether or not they hold a valid passport.

Last year a quarter of Switzerland’s 8,000 illegal immigrants were found to be in possession of a valid passport and therefore had not been fingerprinted.

The government hopes that fingerprinting all illegal immigrants will speed up the process of identification when they are caught.

It says the new measures should reduce the number of bogus asylum applications and simplify “considerably” the work of the authorities.

The information will be stored on Switzerland's Automatic Fingerprint Identification System, which can be accessed by federal and cantonal authorities, as well as by other countries.

“Without fingerprinting it’s impossible to know how many times someone has tried to enter the country,” Mario Tuor, spokesman for the Federal Immigration, Integration and Emigration Office, told swissinfo.

“And when they get into the country, they often ‘lose’ their passports and apply for asylum. It is then very difficult to prove where they have come from; some countries are not very cooperative.”

Valid passport

However, the non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council says the new measures are unlikely to make much of a difference and are merely a sop to the European Union.

The organisation says everybody seeking asylum in Switzerland already has to provide his or her fingerprints on application.

“I think with this new system Switzerland wants to offer compensation to the European Union for not having joined the Dublin accord on asylum,” the Refugee Council’s Jürg Schertenleib told swissinfo.

Non-EU member Switzerland does not have access to the bloc’s Eurodac fingerprint index of individuals who have requested asylum in more than one country.

The Federal Office for Data Protection said on Wednesday that the government was not breaching data protection guidelines.

“Under Swiss asylum law, taking fingerprints is allowed,” said spokesman Kosmas Tsiraktsopulos.

swissinfo

Key facts

8,000 people entered Switzerland illegally in 2003; 2,000 were in possession of a valid passport.
101,000 people were turned back at the border last year for not having a passport or the right visa.
Up until now, only illegal immigrants without a valid passport had to provide their fingerprints.
The fingerprints can be accessed by the federal and cantonal authorities, as well as by other countries.

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