Britain under fire for tests on African asylum seekers

Tests being carried out to catch those fibbing about nationality

06 November 2009: Britain has come under fire with the surfacing of reports that the country s using genetic tests on some African asylum seekers.

It is believed that the tests are being carried out in an attempt to catch those not telling the truth about their nationality. The action has resulted in criticism from scientists and outrage among rights groups.

According to the information available, the United Kingdom Border Agency launched the pilot project in September following suspicion that a number of asylum applicants may be lying about their home countries.

Britain is, perhaps, the only country using genetic tests in this way; and the experts believe the tests are based on flawed science as genetic swabs cannot provide meaningful evidence regarding nationality.

Describing the effort as "fundamentally flawed science," the experts have also shot of a petition to Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling for an end to the project.

Sir Alec Jeffreys, a geneticist at the University of Leicester who developed techniques for DNA fingerprinting, said genes were not aware of national borders; and nationality was a legal concept. It had nothing to do with genetics at all.

Even as the human rights experts said the voluntary label was misleading, the authorities claimed the testing was being carried out voluntary. It involved asking the applicants to provide a mouth swab or hair or nail sample in cases where questions arose about their nationality. The applicants were free to decline.

They argued such tests could indeed provide valuable, though not conclusive, evidence in assessing whether the asylum seekers were telling the truth about their country of origin.
Indications are that the tests as of now are being used only on people claiming to be from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan.

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