Geneva - A new British program that fits some migrants and asylum seekers with GPS tags to track their movements is a completely unnecessary, disproportionate, and biased tool that marks innocent people on the move as criminals, warned Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement on Tuesday.
Under the yearlong pilot plan that began on Wednesday 15 June, some of the people arriving in the UK via what the government deems “illegal methods” or “unnecessary and dangerous routes”—in small boats or the back of lorries, for instance—will be electronically tagged.
According to the UK Government website, there are two types of tags: those used to monitor a person's location, and those to control the terms of their curfew. Both tags are usually placed around the ankle.
The measure came right after the 14 June decision of the European Court of Human Rights to grant an urgent interim measure to halt a chartered flight that would have deported asylum seekers in the UK to Kigali, following the recent Memorandum of Understanding between the UK Government and the Government of the Republic of Rwanda.
British PM Boris Johnson defended the program, saying it was a measure to prevent people from “vanishing” into the rest of the country, even though there is no evidence of asylum seekers’ and migrants’ tendency to abscond in the UK.
On the contrary, data shows that this type of surveillance and criminalisation can have devastating effects on people who have already endured persecution and other abuses. For instance, experiencing even short periods of detention or isolation from the community without appropriate care and support can have adverse effects on physical and mental health, including increased risk of self-harm and suicide, which can further complicate and delay the resolution of the asylum or migration procedure.
This risk, though, is not being seriously considered by British authorities, as even people who have directly experienced torture, inhuman, and degrading treatments during their migratory route may be tagged.
According to current guidelines, caseworkers are required to evaluate various factors when deciding whether or not a person should be electronically tagged; for instance, the measure should not be applied to children or pregnant women. Another element they are instructed to consider is whether a claim of torture has been accepted by Britain’s Home Office, but the guidance explicitly states that such a factor “does not in itself prohibit imposing such a condition”, adding that “it may still be appropriate to maintain electronic monitoring due to other relevant factors”.
“People on the move have often experienced various forms of persecution and abuses: unlawful surveillance, arbitrary detention, or the impossibility to live freely [while maintaining] their personal identity, for instance”, said Muhammed Shehada, Chief of Programmes and Communications at Euro-Med Monitor. “They should be entitled to a heightened duty of care and not the imposition of a GPS tag attached to their ankle, criminalizing their bodies and their choices. In its blind and draconian path to criminalize migrants and asylum seekers entering the UK ‘irregularly’, the British government forgets that at the moment the ‘irregular way’ is the only way for them to arrive”.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor calls on the UK to halt this coercive and invasive plan, and to respect Article 8 (which provides a right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights; to consider the disproportionate and devastating psychological effects this unnecessary scheme could have on people on the move, especially on those who are already vulnerable; to ensure that any processing of migrants’ and asylum seekers’ personal data fully respects their human dignity, integrity, and fundamental rights; and to provide safe and legal routes for them to enter into the UK.