Can my DNA tell you my nationality?

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UKBA aims to pinpoint nationality using DNA testing.

According to a panel of experts at a Festival of Politics event in Edinburgh last week, no it cannot.

The event was called ‘Judged by genetics?’ and was organised by the British Council and Genomics Forum.

Gary Christie, our Policy and Research Manager, was part of the panel which also included Dr Bruce Durie of the University of Strathclyde and Professor Alan Miller, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

The experts on the panel discussed the fact that whilst DNA can tell us a certain amount of information about geographical origins, the relationship between this and a person’s actual nationality is extremely tenuous.

Why were they even having the debate?

The UK Border Agency has been looking into using DNA testing to determine an asylum seeker’s nationality. They are calling this the Human Provenance Project.

This DNA evidence could be used in cases where the Home Office disbelieves the asylum seeker’s claim to come from a particular country. The pilot has been looking at examples where the person seeking asylum claims to be Somali, but the Home Office believes them to come from neighbouring Kenya.  

Gary says, “One in two people fleeing Somalia who the UK Government thinks is safe to return are actually recognised as refugees in need of protection from persecution by a judge when the case goes to appeal. 

“This is an appalling statistic and underlines the need for the UK Border Agency to make better calls on these life and death decisions. It should be focussing on improving how it makes decisions – not abusing science to seek to undermine people’s credibility.

An information sheet by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) about the use of DNA by the UK Border Agency says: ‘ILPA has strongly protested against the introduction of this project. The scientific evidence… strongly suggests that the part relating to origins testing is inappropriate.’

The UK  Border Agency has now finished piloting the project, with what appears to be little stakeholder involvement, and are looking at the results.

Tell us what you think about the project.

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