France: Imminent "Humanitarian Fingerprinting" of Roma with OSCAR

By EDRi · September 8, 2010

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Deutsch: [Frankreich: Drohende Stigmatisierung von Roma durch OSCAR |]

The xenophobic anti-Roma campaign run by the French government
following President Sarkozy’s discourse at the end of July has led to the
brutal dismantling of numerous Roma camps, and to the expulsion of 1 000
foreign Roma people from the country within the last month. How could this
happen, given that most if not all of them are either from Romania or
Bulgaria? As EU citizens since 1 January 2007, they should normally benefit
from freedom of movement in the Union. The reality is that Romanians and
Bulgarians are actually treated as 2nd class EU citizens in countries such
as France, where restrictions have been imposed on their right to stay, even
for a less than 3 month period. As a consequence, they can be expelled from
the country inter alia in case they “threaten the public order” or they
“constitute an unreasonable charge to the French social assistance system”.
Sarkozy’s government suddenly decided that Roma settlements are highly
threatening French public order. Courts disagree though, as recent annulment
of expulsion decisions in Lille have shown. However, such legal recourse can
seldom occur, when one only has 48 hours to file the case, not to mention
the immense practical difficulties for this population to exercise such
rights, even with the support of French NGOs.

This highly publicized campaign has shed the light on a French database
called OSCAR ( Tool for Repatriation Aid Statistics and Control – “Outil de
Statistiques et de ContrĂ´le de l’Aide au Retour” in French), created by
decree in October 2009. OSCAR aims at collecting biometric data (digital
photograph and 10 fingerprints) of foreigners expelled from the country or
even leaving it voluntarily, with the benefit of a small grant. In the case
of EU citizens, the grant takes the form of a “humanitarian repatriation
help” of 300 Euro per person, with an additional 100 Euro for each
accompanying child. In such case, if the child is more than 12 years old,
his biometric data are also collected and stored in OSCAR. These data are
stored during 5 years.

It must be noted that, although this seems recent news to the general
public, to the European Commission and to the international press, the
French government decided to set up this “humanitarian repatriation help”
for EU citizens at the end of 2006, anticipating the “consequences” of
Romania and Bulgaria adhesion to the EU. This can be directly inferred from
an inter-ministerial administrative document of 7 December 2006 and from a
provision of the 2007 Immigration law authorizing the fingerprinting of the
“repatriation grant” recipients. As official data shows, before 1 January
2007, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens formed 25% of the total number of
expelled irregular migrants. After they became EU citizens, the number of
“humanitarian repatriation help” grew from less than 400 in 2005 and 2006 to
almost 3 000 in 2007, more than 10 000 in 2008 (81% of them granted to
Romanians and 9% to Bulgarians) and more than 12 000 in 2009 (83% granted to
Romanians and 7% to Bulgarians). As documented by many NGOs, the French
government has been forcing Roma people to sign on the “humanitarian
repatriation help”, as this is the only really “legal” mean to expel them.
The novelty thus resides in the spectacular Roma-bashing political campaign.

Three French NGOs, among them EDRI member IRIS, have filed a complaint in
December 2009 before the Conseil d’Etat, to obtain the annulment of the
OSCAR database. Together with GISTI (an association defending the rights
of migrants) and LDH (French Human Rights League), IRIS claims that the
biometric nature of the data and the duration of its storage are arbitrary
and disproportionate, given the purpose of the database, which is simply the
management of the grant attribution in order to ensure that one cannot claim
it twice. It is also disproportionate given the amount of the grant, which
is minimal. The complaint also includes other legal arguments, such as the
storage of the foreigners’ addresses in their own country, and the
possibility to interconnect OSCAR with AGDREF, the foreigners’ register,
containing a lot more information for different purposes, though no
biometric data so far.

While only non biometric data were stored in OSCAR till now, since the
biometric fingerprints collecting system was not yet acquired and installed,
Eric Besson, French minister of Immigration, recently announced in the
framework of the current anti-Roma campaign, that biometrics will be in
place in OSCAR starting on 1 October. In an immediate reaction, GISTI,
IRIS and LDH have asked the Conseil d’Etat to process their complaint in

The xenophobic anti-Roma campaign, which has been facing strong reactions
from very diverse sources in the country and abroad, needs to be urgently
stopped. The 3 NGOs also remind in their press release that the OSCAR
database concerns an even larger public, that is, all foreigners, EU
citizens or not, staying legally or illegally in France and likely to
receive any form of “repatriation help”. As stated by a member of the
Parliament from the opposition in 2007, during the discussion of the latest
Immigration law providing for fingerprinting this population: “So, even back
to their country, foreigners would annoy us to the extent that we need to
file them!”. At least, they annoy Sarkozy and its supporters.

EU questions legality of French Roma expulsions (01.09.2010)

NGOs press release: “Biometric filing of Roma: the Conseil d’Etat Annulment
of OSCAR file becomes urgent” (only in French,31.08.2010)

IRIS Dossier on OSCAR and related documents

(Contribution by Meryem Marzouki, EDRI-member IRIS – France)