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Author: Christian Slape

A major hurdle in the asylum-seeking process, from both ends, is ascertaining and verifying the identity of the incoming asylum seekers. Some asylum seekers may have their documents on their person at the time of their arrival. Yet many find themselves without any supporting documentation, either due to the sudden and unfavourable circumstances under which they fled, or because they lost their documents during their long and winding journeys to Western Europe.

Further complicating the issue is that many countries of origin issue unreliable forms of documentation. Afghanistan is the poster-child for this problem: the tazkera is the most common identification document, issued by the local police station, often lacking an accurate date and place of birth, and sometimes even a photo (Fraud Prevention Unit 2011). Furthermore, Afghan surnames are often simply the name of the clan, the geographical region, the father’s first name, or even a positive characteristic tacked onto the individual’s first name (Fraud Prevention Unit 2011).

The Dutch Asylum Process

It goes without saying that for the IND, the Dutch Department of Immigration and Naturalization which processes new arrivals, this is a major issue. For the asylum seeker, it is a potential roadblock to being granted refugee status. However, it must be noted that a lack of documents is not considered valid grounds for the rejection of an application (Hollins 2018). If no documents are presented, then the asylum seeker is channeled into Track 5 of the asylum seeker intake system within The Netherlands, thereby extending the procedure and rendering the application less likely to be accepted (AIDA 2020). If documents are believed to be faulty or unreliable as might happen with said tazkeras, the asylum seeker is channeled into the Extended Procedure, lasting up to 6 months (AIDA 2020).

Undoubtedly, this is solution is less than ideal for both parties, and weighs heavily on asylum seekers waiting up to and often longer than 6 months to find out if they can stay. Whether to “integrate” within that timeframe, to learn Dutch, to volunteer, to find unofficial work as some do, and to put down roots is the nagging question. Most importantly, the constant worry only increases feelings of alienation and isolation, hardly the desired outcome.

This is but one example to illustrate the larger issue of identification of asylum seekers from countries without standardized identification systems and naming conventions, as well as the intractable position it puts asylum seekers in. It is often taken for granted in the Western world that everyone can be identified and codified by name. In other parts of the world, this is markedly not the case.

A Solution

Currently, narrative interviews are used in The Netherlands, as in many other countries, to ascertain identity when identification has not been shown. However, this method is resource and time intensive as it requires “significant research and preparation time” (Hollins 2018). Supporting biometric information is acquired in the form of fingerprints and a shared fingerprint database between European countries, known as “Eurodac” (AIDA 2020).

Going forward, some have suggested the establishment of a collaborative “Multipass” system. In this system, individuals can, upon first contact with officials in their host country, register their basic biometric information. This is done through “finger, palm, and iris” scans and can be shared with other countries when requested (Hollins 2018). This could greatly expedite the overloaded processing system here in The Netherlands and eliminate the frustrating wait times for many hopeful asylum seekers.


AIDA (2020). “Short Overview of the Asylum Procedure.” Asylum Information Database. At

Hollins, Kristian (2018). “Comparable International Approaches to Establishing Identity in
Undocumented Asylum Seekers.” Lowy Institute. At

Fraud Prevention Unit (2011). “A GUIDE TO AFGHAN DOCUMENTS.” U.S.
Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

Why is it Difficult to Identify some Asylum Seekers?

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