The European Union is using biometrics to crack down on "asylum shopping" immigrants, using scans of finger prints to prevent multiple applications across borders being made.
The Europe-wide database project aims to catch those asylum seekers that "shop" for a place to live, moving onto a new country when their application is refused. It is expected to save EU members up to €400,000 (£265,000) a year.
The Eurodac project includes a fingerprint comparison system, a central database that will contain around two million immigration applicants by the year 2004, and electronic methods for the secure transmission of data between member states.
The fingerprint identification system has a capacity of 500,000 comparisons per second and a precision rate of over 99.9 per cent.
The main system was designed by Cogent Systems using Bull architecture, together with fingerprint image transmission capabilities from biometrics company Steria.
The system went live on 14 January at a cost of €6.5m (£4.3m) for the central systems.
It allows the 16 member states to identify asylum seekers and those who have illegally crossed an external European border.
By comparing fingerprints, it can check whether an asylum seeker has already filed a request in another European Union state.
Frank Paul, director of large-scale IT projects at the European Commission, told vnunet.com that the system would reduce the workload required for asylum application processing.
European Union member states between them process about 400,000 requests for asylum every year at a cost of €5,000 (£3,300) per application. The Commission estimates that up to 20 per cent of claims are multiple.
"For a long time we had a phenomenon of refugees in orbit, where they wandered from state to state leaving asylum applications to increase their chances," said Paul.
"But national administrations would have to deal with the same applications in parallel. There was also fraud on social security claims."
The project will help member states to apply the rules of the Dublin Convention, which states that the first country to which the asylum seeker applies is responsible for dealing with the request, added Paul.
"In practice we couldn't always apply the rules because refugees didn't always co-operate," he said. "Some concealed their identity and it was difficult to track their itinerary."
The entire system, including links to national fingerprint tracking systems, went live within a two-year timeframe, including a six-month testing programme.
"If the number of multiple applications is high, we will have a very efficient way to combat it and it will reduce the overall time to process applications and reduce the cost for legitimate asylum seekers," said Paul.
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