Israel Police skirt law, create migrant DNA database

by jeeg 2. May 2013 22:20


Police have been collecting for over a year now the DNA of African migrants who cross into Israel from Egypt and are incarcerated at the Negev’s Saharonim detention facility. The police wanted to find a way to collect the DNA of the migrants before they disappear in Tel Aviv, as a means of helping them solve crimes in which African migrants are suspected of involvement.

Senior police officials had sought permission in the past to collect such samples, and had even approached Knesset committees about it, but were turned down after encountering public opposition and legal hurdles. Until January 2012, police had no legal means of collecting the DNA. Only the Israel Prison Service can legally collect the samples, but those it took were not the right kind to help police investigations.

Police then found a way of getting around the obstacles to collecting the samples. They did so using the fact that by entering the country illegally, the migrants were committing a security-related crime. This meant that the police were authorized to collect DNA samples from suspects in such a crime − the African migrants.

In 2010, the police opened cases against four migrants on a security-related offense, and in 2011, no such cases were opened. But Haaretz has learned that in 2012, 606 such cases of this type were opened − and police had collected DNA from all of these individuals. Samples are not taken from every migrant, nor are they taken from minors.

As far as is known, police have not solved any crimes as a result of such DNA sampling.

Human rights groups said that the decision by police to launch investigations arbitrarily constituted discrimination and was damaging to people who were required to provide a DNA sample. “The criminal process is meant to reach the truth and punish offenders who have been legally convicted. But in terms of asylum-seekers, police are making a different use entirely of the criminal proceeding,” said attorney Asaf Weitzen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers. Weitzen said police were “creating a new law and suiting it to a regime in which there is no longer a need for courts, legislators or public opinion.”

Haaretz has obtained police data indicating a rise of 61 percent from 2011 to 2012 in criminal files involving Sudanese and Eritrean nationals. According to the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, the migrant population from those two countries has grown by about 18 percent and stood at 50,000 people at the end of 2012. The rate of files opened against Sudanese and Eritreans is 44 per thousand, compared to 45 per thousand in the entire population.

Human rights groups say the figures do not necessarily show a rise in crime by Sudanese and Eritrean nationals, and cite increased enforcement and population growth as reasons for the additional investigations.

“Procedure involving infiltrators involved in criminal proceedings allows the police to accuse, convict and punish asylum-seekers based on evidence that is insufficient even to issue an indictment. That being the situation, of course there will be ‘growth’ in the number of offenses,” Weitzen said.

Attorney Lila Margalit of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said: “The legal authority to take DNA samples from a suspect when not required for a specific investigation seriously invades the privacy, dignity, and right to a presumption of innocence.”

Yaniv Kubovich and Ilan Lior, Haaretz


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